December 15, 2009
By Allen Madding
Asheville, North Carolina is no longer a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series or Nationwide Series destination, but over the years, Asheville has been the home to three different race tracks.
Asheville-Weaverville Speedway was constructed by farmer Gene Sluder on his farm outside Weaverville, North Carolina. The track was an almost perfect oval. The NASCAR Grand National Division began racing at Asheville-Weaverville in 1951.
30 cars entered a 200 lap race on the half-mile oval with 8,500 fan attending. Fonty Flock won the inaugural event driving the No. 14 Red Devil Oldsmobile. In 1957, the track was paved. The NASCAR Grand National Division returned to compete on the new asphalt surface and Lee Petty scored the win in his No. 42 Oldsmobile. The Grand National Division held its final event at Asheville-Weaverville on August 24, 1969 with the Western North Carolina 500. Bobby Isaac won the event driving the No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge.
Racing moved into Asheville at McCormick Field. McCormick had been the home to the Asheville Tourists Baseball team and saw such greats as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Willie Stargell and a batboy named Cal Ripken. For three years in the 1950s, baseball abandoned McCormick Field. A quarter-mile race track was constructed around the baseball diamond and racing ensued. The NASCAR Grand National Division made one visit to McCormick Field in July 1958. Jim Paschal, driving Julian Petty’s No. 49 Chevrolet won the 150-lap event on the quarter-mile asphalt track.
The New Asheville Speedway – Asheville, North Carolina
At some point between 1946 and 1948 a small general aviation airport named “Owens Field” was established south of the intersection of Amboy Road & Short Michigan Avenue on the north bank of the French Broad River near Asheville, North Carolina. In 1962, Dr. J. E. Owens was listed as the airport manager. Around 1962 the airport was closed and Owen Field was purchased and construction began on the New Asheville Motor Speedway.
Actually, when the Max Wilson and a group of 20-something friends purchased the property, they did not have the funds to build the track. So, the industrious young track owners started holding drag races on the runway and saving the funds for construction.
On one weekend of drag racing, a plane suddenly began to descend and attempted to land practically on top of the drag racers. Amazingly, the plane managed to safely land and no one was injured. It turned out the plane had run out of fuel and the pilot had found the old runway on an old map.
In July 1962, the New Asheville Speedway opened to host the NASCAR Grand National Division on its one-third mile asphalt race track. After 250 laps of competition, Jack Smith scored the win in his No. 47 Pontiac.
Asheville was one of the tracks dropped from the schedule when Winston became the title sponsor for the newly renamed NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The last NASCAR Grand National Division event held at Asheville was on May 21, 1971 – the Asheville 300. Richard Petty won the race driving his legendary No. 43 Plymouth after leading 252 laps. Elmo Langley led 48 laps but finished second, 4 laps down to Petty.
Asheville continued to host local weekly racing divisions until 1999 when William Stephens, track owner, sold the track. The individual that purchased the track in turn donated the property to the city with the stipulations that the property could not be used for racing, the property could not be given historic designation, and it was to be used as a park.
The track is now used as a bicycling velodrome and has been named the French Broad Water Park. The guardrails and grandstands of the track had been painted red and white when Winston was the brand sponsor of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. After the city took the track over, they repainted it green and white. The original catch fence and PA system still exist.
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