Wednesday, June 29, 2016

walking the occoneechee speedway trail

The Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail (HOST) is located on a site in Hillsborough, NC, whose history dates to the 17th century, when the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation resided here along the banks of the Eno River.
In the late 1700’s, James Hogg, along with many other families, settled here and farmed the fertile land. Hogg’s 3-home plantation was named Poplar Hill. In the 1890’s, General Julian Carr purchased Poplar Hill and the surrounding land and expanded the farm to include a horse racetrack.
Tall trees line the old dirt straight-away.

In 1947, Bill France discovered the racetrack as he flew over Orange County. France partnered with 4 other men to form Hillsboro Speedway, purchase of the 200-acre parcel that included the racetrack in order to develop it for use as an auto racetrack - the Occoneechee Speedway.
In 1949, NASCAR hosted their first race on the 1-mile dirt track - a 100-mile race with over 20,000 fans in attendance. Interesting fact: NASCAR and automobile racing in the South originated in the early 1900’s as informal competitions among bootleggers who modified their vehicles for speed and handling in rural landscapes.
Dave takes the turn.

The track hosted many races, local athletic games, and community events over the next 20 years until 1968, when the opening of the Talladega track in Alabama took the place of the Speedway. The final NASCAR race at the track, “The Hillsboro 150”, took place on September 15, 1968, with Richard Petty as the winner.
The old cement grandstand remains, along with the concession stand decorated with Pepsi signage.

By 1969, racing had fallen out of political favor in the area and with the Speedway out of use, nature began to reclaim the land.

In the early 1980’s, this property was threatened as a proposed location for a bypass intended to redirect traffic congestion in the area. The Preservation Fund of Hillsborough, Preservation North Carolina, and the James M Johnston Charitable Trust, along with Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, worked together to preserve the natural and historic integrity of the Speedway property and surrounding land.
This skink makes his home inside the shell of car #72.

In 1997, CAHPT took ownership of the HOST property and in 2002 this site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006 local racing enthusiasts formed the Historic Speedway Group to help in restoring and maintaining the site. In 2011, CAHPT joined with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to connect HOST to the statewide trail system. The HOST is the only dirt track speedway remaining from NASCAR’s inaugural season.
(The information and text on this post was collected from site placards. The photos are all mine.)

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