Southwest Virginia Speedway - Ghost Track Aerial

Robert Mitchell
@robert-mitchell
8 years ago
327 posts

Southwest Virginia Speedway built in 1947 by Gayle Warren on the edge of Adwolf in Smyth County VA is believed to be the first post-war purpose built auto racing track in the State. Some of the early legends such as Bill Blair, Jimmy Lewallen, and Curtis Turner raced at the track.

Here is a great write-up about the track - http://www.vaautoracing.org/oval2.htm

Note: The notion that Southwest Virginia Speedway was the first post-war purpose built auto/stock car track has been thoroughly disproven in the comments below.

Bobby Williamson tracked down the location of the track years ago and posted it over on LocalRaceChat.com, which enabled me to find a somewhat decent aerial photo of the ghost track from November 1950 -

Location Today just below the intersection of Cherokee Lane and Riverside Road in Adwolf -

Edit: Found a clearer aerial shot From November 14, 1950


updated by @robert-mitchell: 12/05/16 04:08:38PM
Eric Cardona
@eric-cardona
8 years ago
196 posts

I thought that was a road course. Crap.

Robert Mitchell
@robert-mitchell
8 years ago
327 posts

You must be thinking of Virginia International Raceway (VIR) - http://virnow.com/

Eric Cardona
@eric-cardona
8 years ago
196 posts

No, with the shape of the field I thought it was a roadcourse. I know well about VIR.

Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
8 years ago
9,134 posts

I hate to dispute Mr. Katen since I do enjoy his research on Virginia auto racing history, however the half-mile dirt track at Richmond's (Henrico County) new Strawberry Hill / Atlantic Rural Exposition / Virginia State Fairgrounds was purpose built for auto racing (no horses ever raced there) and it's first event was staged on October 12, 1946 (the year before the Southwest Va. Speedway) - a AAA big car race promoted by Sam Nunis and won by the legendary Ted Horn . Brian Katen is absolutely incorrect with his book assertion about the first post WWII purpose built auto race track in Virginia. Sorry.

A lot of "research" really needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For years before I went to work at the Richmond track, Martinsville used to claim it ran the first NASCAR race in Virginia. It did not. Richmond ran the first, Danville the second and Martinsville the third - all NASCAR Modified races in the inaugural 1948 season. Martinsville also used to claim the first national telecast of a Virginia race. I also had that corrected. The 1965 Richmond 250 was on ABC's Wide World of Sports in spring 1965, long before a race was telecast from Martinsville. Unfortunately, many of these old claims seem to resurface and find their ways into current track media guides and books. Be careful what you believe.

Adolph Rice studio aerials of Richmond's Strawberry Hill purpose built half-mile dirt auto racing track which opened on October 12, 1946.

Ted Horn at Richmond's brand new Strawberry Hill / Atlantic Rural Exposition / Virginia State Fairgrounds half-mile dirt purpose built auto racing track on opening day - October 12, 1946.

AAA Sprint Car race
Strawberry Hill / Atlantic Rural Exposition / Virginia State Fairgrounds, Richmond, VA
October 12, 1946
20 laps on 0.5 mile dirt oval; 10 miles

Fin St Driver # Owner Car Laps Money Status Laps Led

1 Ted Horn Ted Horn 1939 Offenhauser 20 running 2 Hank Rogers 3 Red Byron 4 Jimmy Gibbons 5 Earl Johns 6 Danny Goss 7 Al Fleming 8 Mark Sooy Mark Light Stan Jones

Notes: Other entrants included: Burk Stark, George Marshman, Warren Bates, Ottis Stine, Charlie Breslin, and Ben Smerto.
Time of race: 00:07:27
Average Speed: 80.537 MPH

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Ted Horn Cracks Half-Mile Speed Mark Here,
Wins Feature Race at Atlantic Exposition

October 13, 1946
By Max Ailor

It was Ted Horn day at the Atlantic Rural Exposition yesterday as the Paterson, N.J. speedster established a new half-mile sprint record during the time trials and then went on to lap seven cars to win the 10-mile Sam Nunis feature race before 8,000 onlookers. The time was seven minutes, 27 seconds.

The uncrowned national big car champion had no competition on Richmonds new half-mile banked track. Horn sped through the first qualifying eight-lap heat in the fast time of 3:15 a full half lap in front of Hank Rogers, of Trenton, N.J., who was driving the second fastest car on the track.

The Offenhausers were proved to be everything that the experts say as both Horn and Hank Rogers, driving the only Offeys in yesterdays competition, monopolized the feature race. Horn finished the 10-mile sprint three quarters of a lap in front of Rogers who in turn finished a half lap ahead of third place driver Red Byron of Atlanta, who was driving a Dreyer powered automobile.

The racing champion did not waste time in getting a comfortable lead in the feature. Starting on the pole position, Horn jumped into a five-length lead on the first time around the oval; was leading by 10 lengths on the fourth lap. He was a half lap ahead of Rogers who was in second place with a comfortable lead.
When Horn started to lap his opponents, Rogers was able to close in on the lead to within a quarter lap by the fifteenth sprint but Horn was not long in breaking in the clear and had the lead well out in front again by the eighteenth lap.

Richmond was represented by three drivers, Jimmy Gibbons, Al Fleming and Burt Stark.

Gibbons showed up well in the final race, finishing fourth in a close contest for the No. 3 position. Gibbons ran No. 3 throughout the first 15 laps before giving way to Red Byron. He drove the third fastest lap during the time trials.

Al Fleming won the third qualifying heat and was running well up in the money during the first three laps of the feature but an over-heated motor finally forced him back in the field of finishers. Fleming placed seventh in the feature race.

Instead of a consolation race, the promoters gave the fans a five-lap post feature show between Horn and Rogers. Horn stuck to the outside of the track all the way turning up plenty of dirt on the turns to thrill fans and then made a final sprint to edge out Rogers by a length on the final straightaway.

First heat (8 laps) : First, Ted Horn; second, Hank Rogers; third, Jimmy Gibbons. Time: 3:15
Second heat (8 laps) : First, Mark Light; second, Earl Jones; third Red Byron. Time: 3:30
Third heat (8 laps) : First, Al Fleming; second, Dan Goss; third, Stan Jones; fourth Marx Sooy. Time: 3:32
Sweepstakes (20 laps) : First, Ted Horn; second, Hank Rogers; third, Red Byron; fourth, Jimmy Gibbons; fifth, Earl Johns; sixth, Dan Goss; seventh, Al Fleming; eighth, Marx Sooy. Time: 7:27

Richmond News Leader
Fair Plans Full Auto Race Card Despite Threat of Rain
October 12, 1946

Auto Racing Day at the Atlantic Rural Exposition started under a handicap from the weatherman today, with a prediction of rain in the early afternoon. Race officials, however, accustomed to the weathermans gloomy headshakes, made preparations for a full card of big car events, including time trials, four eight-lap heat races and a 20-lap sweepstakes final.

Many of the countrys top drivers were slated to appear in the races scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. Entrants included Ted Horn, of Paterson, N.J., current point leader in the AAA national speed championship; Hank Rogers, of Trenton, N.J., former champion of an independent speed circuit in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; Mark Light, of Lebanon, 1938 Eastern AAA dirt track champion, andRed Byron, of Atlanta, leading money winner in recent races at the Southeastern Worlds Fair in Atlanta.

Other top entrants include George Marshman, of Philadelphia, former midget car driver; Al Fleming, veteran Richmond driver Danny Gross, of Bridgeton, N.J.; Earl Johns, of Somerville, N.J.; Warren Bates, of Monroesville, N.J., Otis Stine, of York, Pa.; Charley Berslin of Philadelphia, and Ben Smerto of Newark, N.J.
Livestock exhibits were scheduled to be removed from the Exposition grounds today.

Grandstand perfomers and midway attractions, however, were looking forward to record crowds. They counted heavily on the fact that Saturday is a full or half-day holiday for many Richmonders and expressed the belief that today would see a large turnout from persons who visits to the exposition were delayed two days this week by persistent rain.

So far the job of the law enforcement officer at the exposition has been an easy one. Major E.H. Organ, chief of police, reported today.

The police chief said he had deputized about 80 men to help county and State police at the Fair Grounds. So far only one arrest and one accident have been reported.

Fairs arent what they used to be, Major Organ said. In the old days police used to make from 50 to 100 arrests during the week and accidents would number well over 50.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
8 years ago
9,134 posts

For many years before the opening of the purpose built auto track at Richmond's A.R.E. in October 1946, both Big Car and stock car races were held on a one-mile and later a half-mile dirt track at the previous Virginia State Fairgrounds located on The Boulevard in Richmond, across from Scott's Addition and the current site since 1953 of Richmond's minor league baseball park, The Arena, and the City Garage and maintenance compound.

Dating from the early 1900s a big event was held annually on Labor Day, originally the Big Cars. Bill France, Sr. used to race on this track.

From a couple of clips I found in the Spartanburg paper from 1946, it "APPEARS" to me that Buddy Shuman "MAY" have won the last stock car race ever scheduled at that Richmond venue, over Pepper Cunningham and Red Byron on Labor Day Monday, September 2, 1946, before the "new" Richmond track opened in October.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Robert Mitchell
@robert-mitchell
8 years ago
327 posts

Wow Dave, excellent research! That is absolute proof Southwest Virginia Speedway was neither the first purpose built auto/stock car track, or the first to race stock cars after the war. And that's an interesting note that the old 1-mile fairgrounds track got a last stock car race in before Strawberry Hill opened.

Since that Labor Day race was somewhat late in the year, it makes me wonder if there was an even earlier stock car race at the old fairgrounds or somewhere in the State before that. We need to find that out.

Great job, Dave. I'm adding a note to my original post above to disclaim Mr. Katen's research.

Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
8 years ago
9,134 posts

I was wondering all of the same things, Robert. I wish I had access to the Richmond newspaper files for coverage on the old dirt track at The Boulevard.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
8 years ago
9,134 posts

Looks like Ted Horn , who won the first race on the "new" Richmond dirt track in 1946, was winning on the "old" Richmond dirt track (which opened in 1907) as early as 1936, possibly before. The clip below is from the Spartanburg paper in 1936. Seems every clip I find about a Spartanburg race in the 30s and 40s also references a Richmond race.

After his father, Bill France, Sr. died, Bill France, Jr. gave Paul Sawyer at the Richmond track something I wish I had copies of. It was a series of letters from the 1930s between Big Bill in Washington, DC and the promoter for the Labor Day Big Car races at the old Virginia State Fairgrounds dirt track on The Boulevard in Richmond asking for deal money. An amount was finally agreed on for Bill to come down from DC. Those are real racing artifacts.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Robert Mitchell
@robert-mitchell
8 years ago
327 posts

There was/is a racing newsletter out of Paterson NJ call "National Speed Sport Auto Racing News" that I'll bet covered or at least had adverts of most if not all of the stock car races in the late '30s thru the '40s before NASCAR was formed. They show up on eBay all the time. I may have to start a collection of those. The pre-NASCAR stock car years fascinate me but to my knowledge there has been no effort to catalog all the races of all the different sanctioning bodies. Now there's a job!