About Raleigh Speedway

Raleigh Speedway was a 1-mile paved, paperclip shaped oval superspeedway located in Raleigh, North Carolina. It closed after only seven years of operation, from 1952 to 1958. Originally opened as Southland Speedway, it hosted an AAA Indy-car race on July 4, 1952 before becoming a NASCAR sanctioned track in 1953. It then hosted seven NASCAR Grand National and three NASCAR Convertible races from 1953 to 1958 when it closed. The track then set dormant for a number of years until is was demolished and the property sold in the 1960s.

The story of Raleigh Speedway begins just after WWII as an airstrip known as O'Neal Flying Field, which was used for flight training. After struggling with financial issues, the property was sold, eventually ending up in the hands of W. H. Herring. Concurrently with Herring’s ownership, Southland Speedways was incorporated on April 30, 1951.[1] Over the course of the next year, the track itself was built by C. C. Triplett of Apex, N.C. for a cost of $500,000. On July 4, 1952, the Southland Speedway hosted its first event, a “200-mile AAA national championship auto race.” [2] The race won the praise of many drivers, car owners, and fans, but it was not enough to pull Southland Speedways out of its startup debt.

During the first few months of 1953 the track was sold at public auction to the newly formed Dixieland Speedways, Inc.[3] Dixieland Speedways renamed the track, and hosted its first NASCAR event on May 30. Called the Raleigh 300, it was the first NASCAR race under lights.[4] It attracted 15,235 people and saw speeds of over 70 miles per hour.[5] This success was overshadowed by an event known as “Black Saturday” in which two drivers were killed on the track. During the September 19, 1953 Sportsman race Bill Blevins’s car stalled on the back stretch just prior to the green flag being waved. When the field of cars reached him, Jesse Midkiff’s car collided with Blevins at close to 90 miles per hour, and both cars erupted into flames. The News and Observer reported that “Flames from the two cars shot about 70 feet into the air and showered the other speeding cars.” [6] While racing did not end, the events did cause difficulties for race promoters, and increased the political opposition to the races.

Another instance in 1953 put the track on a different map. In December of that year, the Nash Corporation decided to use the track to test its newly developed compact car. The Nash Metropolitan, originally named the Nash NKI, was tested for endurance and fuel economy in a 24-hour event on December 7-8 at Raleigh Speedway. This site was chosen so that a third party could verify the results of the test for Nash to use in sales materials. The two randomly chosen cars, serial numbers 1009 and 1013, were driven the 800 miles to Raleigh, and the team made the necessary preparations for testing. In the end, the cars ran 1469.7 miles on the track, and received a fuel consumption rating of 21.147 miles per gallon.[7] The Metropolitan was released in 1954 and the sales literature and videos included shots and information from the Raleigh Speedway test.

Despite the success of the 1953 Grand National race and the Nash Metropolitan testing, the track was again sold on February 27, 1954 to Middle Creek Investment Company, Inc.[8] Middle Creek took the reins, and hosted another NASCAR Grand National event on May 29, 1954. This race, called the Raleigh 250, only attracted 10,500 people, and was considered to be another nail in the coffin of Raleigh Speedway.[9] On January 31, 1955, the track was again sold to a new group of investors named H. M. Keith, H. J. Carr, A. G. Crumpler, and G. W. Adcock.[10] In spite of the early problems, these four men would control the speedway, and successfully host eight more events over four years, until the tracks closing in 1958.

Under the control of Keith, Carr, Crumpler, and Adcock, The speedway hosted two 100-mile Grand National events in 1955, and one each in 1956, 1957 and 1958. It also hosted three NASCAR Convertible Series Races; two in 1956 and one in 1957. This time period was largely seen as the most successful era of the track, but it did not last. The Raleigh News and Observer placed the blame on “A city-county ban on Sunday racing. Public sentiment, grumbling by well-heeled neighbors who despised the noisy nuisance, politics and lack of vision…” [11] After the 1958 race, the track set dormant for a number of years until it was sold off and demolished in the early to mid-1960s. Today, only a small section of the backstretch remains, under a coating of pine needles, among a growing industrial complex.

In the end, this story relates to much larger questions regarding collective memory. Why does Raleigh only get a passing mention in the history of NASCAR, and why is no one really interested in the stories it has to tell? How can it be turned into an industrial complex without even a reminding marker? The story of Raleigh Speedway deserves the attention of historians in the future, and it begs the question of what else is out there. What else is hiding in the woods, waiting for someone who cares to come along?

[1] Certificate of Incorporation of Southland Speedways, Inc., Wake County Register of Deeds Book 1 (Raleigh, NC: 30 April 1951), 578-580.

[2] “Qualifying on Schedule at Raleigh Track,” High Point Enterprise, (High Point, NC: 27 June 1952). (Link)

[3] “Speedway Near Raleigh Sold At Public Auction,” Statesville Record and Landmark, (High Point, NC: 29 January 1953). (Link)

[4] Sandy Grady, “Comeback Track,” Speed Age Magazine, (October 1954), 40-43. (Link)

[5] “1) Raleigh 300 (1953).” (Link)

[6] Daniel S. Pierce. Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay and Big Bill France (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010) 10-11.

[7] Patrick Foster, “Proving the Metropolitan,” Hemmings Classic Car, (September 2010), 40-45. (Link)

[8] “’Deed’ Dixieland Speedways, Inc. to Middle Creek Investment Company, Inc.,” Wake County Register of Deeds Book 1144 (Raleigh, NC: 27 February 1954), 117-119.

[9] “2) Raleigh 250 (1954).” (Link)

[10] “’Deed’ Middle Creek Investment Company, Inc. to H. M. Keith, H. J. Carr, A. G. Crumpler, and G. W. Adcock,” Wake County Register of Deeds Book 1180 (Raleigh, NC: 31 January 1955), 46-49.

[11] “Track ahead of its time, ” News and Observer, (Raleigh, N.C.: 16 February 2015).