Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August 7, 1955 - Lee's Win Sweeps Winston-Salem

August 7, 1955: Starting from the inside of the second row, Lee Petty leads about a third of the 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt track at Forsyth County Fairgrounds near Winston-Salem, NC. Future Petty Enterprises driver, Jim Paschal, finished second in a #78 Oldsmobile. Bob Welborn finished sixth in a Chevrolet fielded by Julian Petty, Lee's brother.

Before NASCAR Grand National races began making annual stops at the more well-known Winston-Salem track - Bowman Gray Stadium - two GN races were promoted at the county fairgrounds track. Both were in 1955, and Lee Petty swept them. The first one was May 29, 1955 when Petty's win on the little-known Carolina bullring was overshadowed by the stunning death of Bill Vukovich at the Indianapolis 500.

The track and fairgrounds as they looked in the mid 1960s...

... and the property as it looks today near the sports facilities of Wake Forest University - with the footprint of the track still visible though long gone.

In his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas, author Perry Allen Wood writes about the race:
A wilting Winston-Salem Sunday, August 7, 1955, thankfully rode well on the safe side of the ill winds that owned auto racing. The field included 22 top shoes such as Tim Flock's Chrysler 301 on the pole with teammate/brother Font outside in 300. Petty completed the Forsyth County sweep for 1955 in a new Dodge. Paschal was runner-up in the Helzafire Olds... [Herb] Thomas lost a clutch for 21st. [He] was returning after a vicious flip at Charlotte two months earlier, but his Yunick Hudson failed. Then, after 122 Hudson starts, 38 wins, and a Grand National title in that marque, Herb never raced a Hudson again. Mr. Hudson went Chevy and within a month, Herb and Smokey won their Southern 500. ~ pp. 178-179  
UNC Asheville student, William Tate, wrote a master's thesis about several old Carolina tracks - including a piece he researched on the fairgrounds race track.
Another track that came on the Grand National circuit from a local or state fairground was Forsyth County Fairgrounds in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Later known as Dixie Fairgrounds, the track was originally built for motorcycles and horse racing. Barbara Taylor asserts that, “the half-mile dirt oval was built circa 1929.” During the 1955 Grand National NASCAR season, two races were held at the fairgrounds. In fact, they were the only two strictly-stock events held at the track.

As NASCAR grew, local drivers that drove in smaller series began to drive on the top circuit. The other race ran at the Forsyth County Fairgrounds took place on August 7, 1955.  The Winston-Salem Journal stated that among the potential favorites for the upcoming race was, “(Billy) Myers, who dominates sportsman racing but has yet to win a strictly-stock, late model event.” Including Myers, other local entrants consisted of Lee Petty, Jim Paschal and Bob Welborn. According to the August 8th Winston Salem-Journal, 5,500 attended the race and saw Lee Petty once again beat Jim Paschal for the victory. Local racer Billy Myers finished 9th in the field. In only two races at the track, Lee Petty dominated 100% of the time.
As Tate noted, the fairgrounds were later renamed Dixie Fairgrounds. Racing ended in the early 1960s, but the Dixie Classic Fair has continued annually each October (web | Twitter).

Edited August 6, 2014

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