by Jeff Gilder
Just over a year ago a group of racing history enthusiasts explored historic Columbia Speedway in Cayce, SC to find it overgrown with trees, weeds, and vinesa mere ghost of its glorious past. Commercial real
estate signs at the entrance seemed to be a sign of its eminent demise. In a meeting with the owners it was learned the property was likely to be cleared for commercial development. Permission was granted for a one-time reunion of the old race tracks competitors and fans. That RacersReunion event was eventually held on Saturday April 25, 2009 and saw over 30,000 spectators from 17 states. The areas Chamber of Commerce estimated an economic impact to the area of nearly 1.5 million dollars.
Columbia Speedway opened in 1948 with a reported crowd of over 10,000 in attendance. It was the spot of NASCARs first race under the lights June 16, 1951. Studebaker got its first and only victory that same night
when Frank Mundy drove to the win. Chevrolet captured its first ever win at Columbia Speedway on March 16, 1955 when Fonty Flock drove a 55 Chevy to victory. In a 1957 Oldsmobile convertible, young Richard Petty drove his very first race on the half-mile oval. He was 21 years old and the date was July 12, 1958. He won his first race there one year later on July 17, 1959 driving a 1959 Plymouth convertible. A young buddy Baker drove his first race at historic Columbia Speedway on June 18, 1959. Many stock car racing legends frequented this demanding race track such as, Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Ralph Earnhardt, Lee Petty, Buck Baker, David Pearson, Rex White, Cotton Owens, Junior Johnson, and Ned Jarrett. Doing well at Columbia was an accomplishment sought by all who competed during its reign as one of the Souths toughest challenges.
The speedway closed in the mid-seventies and lay dormant except for visits from an occasional bicyclist or jogger. Many residents of the surrounding communities seemed to have forgotten about the old track. Their
memories were revived leading up to and on that Saturday in April 2009. The race tracks significance to the community was revived as well. The successful RacersReunion event opened the eyes of not only the property owners, but caught the attention of city officials, business owners, and politicians alike. Immediately following the 2009 RacersReunion, the property was taken off the market and development began to make this an all-purpose events facility to once again serve the surrounding communities. Future plans include a community
center, a walk-of-fame park, and a museum along with restoring the track to its former race-like condition. The Historic Columbia Speedway has already been host to six concerts with more planned. There will be a carnival there in late April as well as cars shows, outdoor movies, and much more. And yes, the Columbia Speedway RacersReunion is now an annual event. This years event will be April 14-17 with a biker rally, three concerts, a chicken bog cook-off, a showing of the movie Red dirt Rising, collector car auction, parade, car show, autograph session, and vintage race car show.
Recently, plans to bulldoze a by-pass through historic Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, NC were dropped in favor of preservation of that important piece of history. Andy Hillenburg has revived the Rock. North
Wilkesboro Speedway has seen some recent promising activity and other successful preservation and restoration projects are currently being addressed. Our racing heritage is important! It is important to be reminded from where we came. It is important for this generation to take actionor at least I think
so. How about you?