Stock-car racing may have been created in the hills of the Blue Ridge, but it came of age in the Dan River Basin.
Bootleggers looking to boost moonshine out of the hollers often drove suped-up cars to outrun law enforcement during Prohibition, and it wasn’t long before they started racing each other to see who had the fastest car.
A circuit of tracks sprang up in the rolling hills of North Carolina and Virginia’s Piedmont, and race teams soon followed. Today, you can revisit that heritage, as well as check out regular races at some of America’s most historic tracks.
A Brief History
Begin in Stuart, Virginia, home to one of stock-car racing’s most storied teams. The Wood Brothers have since moved their base of operations to North Carolina, but in the small town where they got their start, you can tour the Wood Brothers Racing Museum, which is chock full of old cars, uniforms and mementos from one of the oldest continuously operating teams in NASCAR.
Before leaving the Blue Ridge Mountains, jog north to Callaway, Virginia, to visit Franklin County Speedway, which marks its 50th season of racing this year. The track sits along one-time bootlegging routes in the place once known alternatively as the wettest county in the world and the Moonshine Capital of the World.
From there, head east on U.S. 58 to find Martinsville Speedway, one of NASCAR’s most recognizable tracks. The “paperclip” still hosts two major NASCAR weekends each year, along with smaller events in between. Martinsville is known for tight quarters and physical racing, and with the installation of lights that allow races at night, it has entered a new era.
Drive south on U.S. 29 to Danville, home to the legendary Wendell Scott—NASCAR’s first African American driver—as well as Peyton Sellers, who continues to race today and can sometimes be spotted in Danville. While in town, visit Puryear Race Parts, a parts store owned by Stacy Puryear, who is from South Boston and has been involved in motorsports for 32.
Puryear began as a mechanic for Jeff Burton and assisted Ward Burton in Late Model Stock Car racing at South Boston Speedway before the brothers both made the jump to NASCAR’s top tier. The Burtons’ hometown is a little farther east in Halifax County, where you can find South Boston Speedway.
VIRginia International Raceway is located in Halifax County as well. VIR is an adventure all in itself, with extensive lodging options as well as a store and kart track that is regularly opened to the public (see the website for details).
Racing in Piedmont North Carolina
Drive south across the state line for another racing experience at Roxboro Motorsports Park, which regularly runs one or two events weekly through the spring, summer and fall.
Travel back to the west and you’ll find 311 Motor Speedway in Pine Hall, North Carolina. The track, which bills itself as “The Daytona of Dirt,” hosts racing events on a weekly basis from late March through early October.