Out in the woods along the banks of the Eno River, you may be surprised to find the remains of a speedway owned by the king of NASCAR himself: Daytona Beach’s Bill France, Sr.
The Historic Occoneechee Speedway is the last remaining dirt speedway from NASCAR’s inaugural 1949 season. The one-mile, oval speedway was active for 20 years, and the overgrown, faded concrete stands that still remain today were once filled with tens of thousands of cheering fans. Rusted race cars can still be found on the hiking trails by the speedway, frozen in time, from an era when stock car drivers roared around the track.
Legends like Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Louise Smith and Junior Johnson once spent their Sundays competing in the “Strictly Stock” and Grand National series, according to the Eno River’s website.
In the 50 or more years since the track closed, the speedway’s remains have become overgrown and heavily forested with decades of tree and plant growth.
It began as a track for the ‘sport of kings’
Long before France sought to bring NASCAR to central North Carolina, this land was being used for racing. Before roaring engines and fiery crashes, this track had horse races.
The land was previously owned Julian Carr, for whom the nearby Carrboro was named.
According to Orange NC History, “The Occoneechee Speedway occupies the land that was once the property of James Hogg, one of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina.”
One of the homes Hogg built on his land was Poplar Hill, which was purchased by Carr in the 1890s. He renamed it Occoneechee Farm and built a horse track on the property.
Decades later, France would find that dirt horse track an alluring opportunity to expand NASCAR into the Hillsborough area.
Explore the Occoneechee Speedway live on the WRAL Facebook page
Hidden Historian Heather Leah is going to explore the remains of the Occoneechee Speedway this afternoon. She will do a Facebook live stream exploring the remains around 12:30 p.m. on Monday. After the stream, more photos and information will be added to this article from the exploration. Keep a look out, so you can join the live exploration on the WRAL Facebook Page.