DestinationFAY: Racing has a rich history in Fayetteville
By Thomas Pope
Motor sports of multiple varieties have a rich history in Fayetteville, especially when it comes to short-track stock car action.
Auto racing exploded in America after World War II, and Fayetteville was no different, given that Fort Bragg is located on its doorstep. By the mid-1950s, a one-third-mile asphalt track called Champion Speedway had been built alongside U.S. 301, the main highway of the day between New York and Miami. On April 8, 1956, a seven-year-old NASCAR came to town for the first time with its Convertible division. Home-state driver Bob Welborn, piloting a ’56 Chevy, scored his first NASCAR win in that 150-lapper, and that helped propel him to the first of three consecutive championships.
After two more Convertible races at Champion in ’57, NASCAR deemed the track a good venue to host a race for its top-of-the-line Grand National division. In the first of four such races at Champion and before a crowd of 3,500 fans, Rex White won by half a lap over Lee Petty.
Both those men would eventually be enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In fact, Fayetteville-area racing fans have seen a large contingent of NASCAR Hall of Famers compete on its asphalt and dirt speedways. In all, at least 16 drivers who battled at three Fayetteville tracks are immortalized in the Charlotte hall, including: seven-time Cup champions Richard Petty (one of Lee’s sons) and Dale Earnhardt, another father-son duo in Buck and Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, former moonshiner Junior Johnson, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Glen Wood (whose team competes to this day in the Cup ranks), Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Wendell Scott and Cale Yarborough.
There’s more: Racers who have turned laps in Fayetteville – including Ernie Irvan and DeWayne “Tiny” Lund – have a collective 23 victories in the Daytona 500.
Richard Petty leads them all, having won NASCAR’s premier event seven times. Stock-car racing’s “King Richard” made his lone start in Fayetteville on Nov. 9, 1958.
The other hall of fame member to race here was three-time NASCAR titlist David Pearson. During the lifespan of Fayetteville Speedway, a 3/8ths-mile dirt track less than a mile north of Champion, Pearson made an annual appearance to race as part of his NASCAR sponsorship package from Purolator, a filter manufacturer that operates a plant near the track. Early in its history, in 1961, that same speedway hosted a motorcycle race that was slated for 500 grueling laps, but a heavy downpour stopped the show after 281 circuits. The track went under in the early ’80s, which is somewhat appropriate given that the property was converted into a cemetery, which was a home, at different times, to the quick and the dead.
The only stock-car facility in operation today is Fayetteville Motor Speedway. That track, located off Doc Bennett Road, opened in 1968 as an asphalt oval, and in ’73 Allison and Lund won NASCAR-sanctioned Grand National East races in front of packed houses. Around 1980, the pavement was ripped out. As a dirt track, it’s earned a reputation as a venue for frequent top-shelf Super Late Model competition. The track is one of two that served to launch the Carolina Clash regional series more than two decades ago.
It has also hosted the best of the best, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt and World of Outlaws Late Model tours. Those national series attract racers from as far away as California and Wisconsin to do battle in the Sandhills, and in 2018, a track record $20,001 was earned by First in Flight 100 winner Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tennessee.