Coincidental timing with this article about Bill Blair Jr. Was posted earlier this week - a few days before the anniversary of the June 26, 1953 race at Tri-City.
Blair wants historical markers for city's old speedways
Jun. 21, 2015 @ 01:00 AM -Jimmy Tomlin
HIGH POINT -Riding shotgun with Bill Blair Jr. through a couple of neighborhoods in north High Point, its clear just how close to his 76-year-old heart this land really is.
Sacred ground, he calls it.
Its largely just urban sprawl to most of us well-kept houses and townhomes and manicured lawns on neatly planned cul-de-sacs but where most of us see driveways, Blair sees speedways. Where most of us see suburban drivers heeding neighborhood speed-limit signs, Blair still sees those daredevils of yesteryear men like his father, Bill Blair Sr. who threw caution and speed limits to the wind, driving at breakneck speeds for their shot at fame if not fortune.
You see that row of pine trees right there? Blair asks, pointing to a stand of five or six pines behind a row of houses. Thats where the straightaway was.
For more than half an hour, Blair navigates his way through the Hampton Park and St. Andrews Place neighborhoods former sites of the High Point Speedway and Tri-City Speedway, respectively identifying where the straightaways, turns, infields and grandstands of the old dirt tracks used to be. In his mind, he can remember the tracks every nuance.
And now, before its too late, he wants others to remember those iconic racetracks, too.
Blair, who lives in Thomasville but who grew up in High Point, not far from the speedways and whose father helped build Tri-City Speedway nearly 70 years ago thinks the city should be playing up its racing roots.
I believe these racetracks are worthy of a historical marker to let people know our history, Blair says. Stock car racing is one of the biggest industries in North Carolina, and High Point helped get it started. Theres so much history there.
This citys contribution to racing goes back to 1940, with the construction of the High Point Speedway, a one-mile oval dirt track built off of Johnson Street, on the site of an orchard. With its progressive banking in the turns, the track was built for speed, Blair explains.
You could average over a hundred miles an hour on the track with a 39 or 40 Ford, he says, and the Indy cars ran 125 to 135 miles an hour.
The track, which hosted only three stock-car races and one Indianapolis-style race, was also apparently a marvel to see, with a large grandstand and a two-way tunnel that ran under the track and led into the infield, according to Blair.
It had a beautiful grandstand that would seat about 10,000 people it was just a beautiful track, he says. Many of the Indianapolis guys who came down here to race said it was one of the best tracks in the world, second only to Indianapolis thats how much they thought of it.
Alas, the speedway fell victim to poor timing, as the nations declaration of war led to fuel and tire rationing, essentially applying the brakes to the sport of racing. After only four races, the speedway was auctioned, and the new owner tore down the grandstand and sold off the lumber.
Following the war, as racing began to become popular again, High Point brothers Bob Blair and Bill Blair Sr. the latter of whom had actually raced at the old High Point Speedway teamed up to build Tri-City Speedway, a half-mile, D-shaped dirt track located off of what is now Skeet Club Road. Bob owned the land, and Bill had the cash to finance the project. Bill also was to be the speedways manager and promoter.
He knew all the drivers, because hed been racing with them since 1940, Bill Blair Jr. says.
The first race at Tri-City was held on June 8, 1947, and though the facility was somewhat smaller than the High Point Speedway, it still drew a crowd of about 9,000 spectators a solid turnout in those days for a city the size of High Point, according to Blair.
After a couple more successful races, though, controversy divided the racetracks owners. The issue was whether they should continue to align their track with a race-sanctioning organization run by Bill France Sr., a former driver he raced at the old High Point Speedway who had since turned most of his attention to promoting the sport.
According to Blair, his father wanted Tri-City to stay with France, but when he saw that wasnt going to happen, he pulled out of his affiliation with the speedway, believing it would not succeed without being able to attract the big-name drivers Frances organization could assure.
And thats exactly what happened, Blair says. He even recalls one race at Tri-City Speedway that turned into a near-riot because the sports biggest names didnt show.
They advertised that all the name drivers were gonna be there, Blair explains, but only eight or nine cars showed up. Jimmie Lewallen from Archdale was the biggest draw, but nobody else that anybody had ever heard of was there.
That resulted in a lot of disgruntled spectators, Blair continues.
They tried to run the race, but people came out of the grandstand and stopped it they werent gonna go for it, he says. They came down onto the track and had a big fight all up and down the straightaway. They didnt race that night, and they had to refund everybodys money.
Tri-City Speedway lasted about a decade, before hosted its last race in the late 1950s. Blair says the track couldve been even more successful had the owners aligned with France, who went on to co-found NASCAR.
Nonetheless, Blair says High Point can and should be proud of its racing heritage, as some of the sports pioneers raced on those two speedways. The High Point Speedway featured the likes of France, Blair Sr., Lloyd Seay and Wild Bill Snowden, while Tri-City Speedway boasted such drivers as Glenn Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Ned Jarrett and Tim Flock.
So many great drivers were here, Blair says. And with Bill France, (Tri-City) was one of the first tracks that sanctioned with him before there was a NASCAR. It gave him the insight and the courage to keep on trying to organize. Theres a lot of history here.
Thats why Blair wants the city of High Point to place a historical marker or markers near the sites of the old racetracks, designating the citys contributions to the sport of racing.
People come here to see RCR (Richard Childress Racing in Welcome) and the Petty Museum (in Randleman), he says. So youve got people coming through here that are interested in early-day stock car racing, and for the city of High Point, these historical markers could help them attract tourists. It could really benefit the city.
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Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.