Metrolina Speedway Only Historic Charlotte Track To Still Survive

Charlotte, NC (January 16th, 2012) – Fans attending the NASCAR Acceleration Weekend in Charlotte will be treated to history past and present as they tour the vintage exhibits in the gleaming new NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Many will also take the opportunity to visit the nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway and the dozens of race team shops located in the Charlotte area. It’s our guess, however, that few will take the time to swing by the now defunct Metrolina Speedway on the north side of the city.

The Metrolina track is one of many that populated the city since the turn of the 20th century. Included in that list is Charlotte Speedway, a 1.25-mile raceway that took just 40 days to construct and was made out of more than four million feet of Carolina Pine wood.

Charlotte’s first major speedway opened with an Indy Car event on October 25, 1924 and featured top drivers Jimmy Murphy, Tommy Milton, Benny Hill, Earl Cooper, Harry Hartz, and Frank Lockhart. Milton posted a lap of 125.7 miles per hour to take qualifying honors and went on to win the race – a 250 miler – before an estimated 30,000 fans.

By 1927, the track was in trouble because of a decaying racing surface. Unable to afford repairs to the facility, the speedway was abandoned and sat fallow until the start of World War II when it was dismantled to assist the war effort.

The most storied of Charlotte’s lost raceways was also named Charlotte Speedway – the track that hosted of the first NASCAR ‘Strictly Stock’ race in 1949. Built on the Allison family farm at the corner of Wilkinson Boulevard and Little Rock Road, the three-quarter mile dirt oval saw Jim Roper best a 33-car field to win $2,000 in front of an estimated 13,000 fans on June 19, 1949. In all, the track hosted 12 NASCAR events from 1949 through 1956 with Tim Flock, Buck Baker, Curtis Turner, Fonty Flock and Speedy Thompson all scoring wins.

The last NASCAR event at Charlotte Speedway – one of three Convertible division races to be held at the facility – was on August 23, 1957 and was won by Glen Wood.

The track closed shortly thereafter and eventually became a junkyard. Now, there’s little to designate the speedway was even there other than a North Carolina State Historical Marker to salute the inaugural NASCAR event.

Southern States Fairgrounds Speedway located at the corner of North Tryon Street and Sugar Creek Road – not far from the current Charlotte Motor Speedway – played a part in the demise of Charlotte Speedway. Also known as Charlotte Fairgrounds Speedway, the half-mile dirt oval opened in the late 1940’s and featured a lake in the middle. The track hosted its first NASCAR race on August 13, 1954 with Lee Petty taking top honors. The track held a total of 17 NASCAR sedan and five Convertible races through 1960 – the last one coming on November 6, 1960 when Joe Weatherly bested Rex White, Petty, Baker and David Pearson in 100-mile Grand National event.

One other track of note in Charlotte was the half-mile dirt Queen City Speedway, Located at the end of a runway at Charlotte Douglas Airport, the speedway was open for just two years (1968-1969) and had trouble drawing fans who were already used to attending races at the Southern States and Metrolina Speedway.

In debt from the beginning of the construction process, the speedway also suffered from complaints about noise from nearby residents who evidently could stand the constant sound of airplanes but not the roar of racecars on Sunday night.

In an interesting footnote, the concrete grandstand from Queen City Speedway still exists as part of the football stadium complex at Charlotte Independence High School.

Meanwhile, the Metrolina Expo Trade Center was established in 1960. The exposition center quickly added a half-mile banked dirt raceway naming it Speedworld. Racing on Friday nights, the track drew the area’s top drivers on a weekly basis but never hosted what is now considered Sprint Cup events.

The track did hold several secondary NASCAR events after the track was paved in the early 1970’s. The most storied of those races came in November 1974 when Harry Gant bested legends Jerry Cook, Bugs Stevens and Richie Evans in a NASCAR Modified Division event. Later that day, Jack Ingram took top honors in a NASCAR Late Model Sportsman race that featured Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Tiny Lund.

Metrolina Speedway was also the site of two other notable events – Dale Earnhardt’s first pavement victory – and the last race for Speedy Thompson. Thompson suffered a heart attack during a late model race at Metrolina on April 2, 1972 and crashed hard breaking his neck in the process. He died on the way to the hospital.

Eventually, Metrolina was returned to a dirt surface hosting various late model sprint car and motocross races into the mid-1990’s. In 2010, plans were announced to refurbish and reopen the track, but those initiatives never came to fruition.

While Metrolina may not ring true as one of NASCAR’s most historic raceways, it’s important in the respect that it is the only Charlotte area vintage track still in existence.

In the Close Finishes photos included in this article, its obvious Metrolina has seen better days. The overgrown racing surface and grandstand, rusty fences, battered pit and concession buildings have seen much better days.

Despite its deterioration, you can still feel the history echoes of fast cars, loud engines and cheering fans as you sit among the weeds in the grandstand.

It’s a part of Charlotte racing history that will more than likely go unnoticed this week at NASCAR inducts its latest group of legends into the Hall of Fame. That is, unnoticed everywhere but here.

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