North Carolina - The Heart Of Motorsports
Motorsports is America's fastest growing sport. But racing hasn't always enjoyed so much popularity. In fact, racing claims its rowdy roots deep in the mountains of North Carolina - in whiskey country. Bootleggers souped up their cars to outrun the law on rugged back roads. As legend has it, the whiskey-runners eventually began to take notice of each other's cars. Then, they started racing each other, and an American pastime was born. In 1947, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) emerged. The first true NASCAR race was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, in summer 1949.
Today, motorsports is a major international business. Drivers, owners, engineers and mechanics are known worldwide. And North Carolina has given birth to many of the sport's greatest.
While many major sports are dominated by men, women play an important role in the business of motorsports in North Carolina. In Hickory, two women own and operate the Hickory Motor Speedway. In operation since 1950, the Hickory Motor Speedway is the oldest continually operating motor speedway in the country. Sherry Clifton and Debbie Whitworth have been at the helm of this racing icon since they assumed ownership in 2001.
Famous team owners and drivers are now establishing museums to chronicle their careers as well as the changes in the industry. So it is no surprise that thousands of people are traveling to North Carolina to visit museums that highlight and honor the state's rich racing history. North Carolina is currently home to 12 museums that celebrate motorsports and the people who made the industry what it is today. In addition, schools have been created by some of the best in the business to teach the novice - or the avid fan - about everything from driving to pit crew action.
North Carolina is famous for some of the most interesting motorsports personalities in the nation. These characters don't fade away when their racing days are over. They remain active in the community and often take on different roles in the industry.
- Junior Johnson, who is credited with creating the "bootlegger's turn" and being the first to use the "draft" in a race, became a community and business leader.
- Richard Petty, one of the most famous racing legends, is also a figure in state politics and a savvy businessman.
- Danny "Chocolate" Myers is well known for his mechanical abilities and respected for his deep family racing history (his father and uncle, Bobby and Billy Myers, were racers in the 50s). Today, Chocolate is curator of the Richard Childress Museum in Lexington.
- Ray Price is in his 60s and continues to race - and win - on dirt bikes. Price also has a state-of-the-art motorcycle and dirt bike racing museum in Raleigh as well as a successful Harley-Davidson dealership.
When you look at the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, you notice that it is a family sport. The Petty family has four generations of racing in its blood - two members are on NASCAR's "Top 50 Drivers" list. Teresa Earnhardt, widow of the late Dale Earnhardt, is president and CEO of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. And racing industry greats like Chocolate Myers were born with racing all around them.
Years ago, young men spent hours working on their cars, experimenting to see whose could go the fastest. Racecars of today are born from that tradition, but now drivers and team owners take advantage of sophisticated technology. Today's engineers combine science with racing. Optimizing their cars with new technology can mean the difference in tenths of seconds, the difference between winning and losing.
added: January 4, 2009
updated: October 9, 2009