Preservation of Racing History
Jeff Gilder
Monday March 8 2010, 4:00 PM

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?

Wayne Wilson
@wayne-wilson   13 years ago
The baby boomer generation is getting older and most of our best memories occurred earlier in our lives. For those of us that were involved with racing, either as a driver, mechanic, or spectator, those were some of the best times in many of our lives. The other major sports, football, baseball, and so on, are still based on the original concept and except for minor rule changes, are basically the same they were back then. Racing (NASCAR Racing) does not look, even remotely, like it did in our younger days other than the fact that they still drive around in circles and turn left. Now it is $$$$ and the average person just does not relate to that. You can't tell a Ford from a Chevrolet or a Dodge from a Toyota unless you look to see what name plate it has. You could swap the name plates on the cars and very few people would know. The best time was when you could watch a race and go the next day and buy a car almost identical to it, just without roll bars. The old speedway are the places where all of this occurred and that is a big part of our lives. As each of them disappear, so does part of someone's life, gone forever. I am thankfull for what we have today, and still like to watch a good race. But from what I have seen in the last few years, the better racing in on a track that is not controlled by NASCAR. I sure do miss what we had back then and am proud to be among people that share the same type memories. Together, mayby we can keep those days alive for a long time to come.
@devin   13 years ago
Wonderful Blog post. You said my thoughts best Wayne, "I am proud to be among people that share the same type memories. Together, maybe we can keep those days alive for a long time to come." But most importantly, I am proud to be a part of helping to preserve those memories for all the drivers and spectators who have driven and once visited these speedways, especially the Historic Columbia Speedway, as I was once one of those spectators. Thank you to everyone helping to keep the memories alive!
Tim Leeming
@tim-leeming   13 years ago
The only thing I can add to this is my heart-felt thank you to all who have participated in making everything happen at Columbia Speedway. That place is historic, magic, and a part of my life that caused every single thing in my life to change.
Jim Wilmore
@jim-wilmore   13 years ago
Enjoyed reading this.It seems like yesterday I bought my old sedan, was in it's infancy, Legends helping legends had it's first autograph session, Occoneechee had it's first open house, The Rock, as magnificent as it is, lay dormant, and North Wilkesboro, you could chalk that up as forever a ghost track.It goes to show what a little enthusiasm, ambition, and a small group of people can do when they put their minds to something. Thanks to everyone that had the vision and the courage to stand up for what they believe in.
Gail Flowers
@gail-flowers   13 years ago
I wanted to add my 'THANKS' to all who helped in bringing the Cola speedway back to's awesome to be associated with such wonderful folks. I look forward to this years event and I'm ready to cook some chicken bog. Thanks for making the chicken bog cook-off a part of the event!!
Blake Daniels
@blake-daniels   13 years ago
i think we should preserve every track because every track holds some drivers history.
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