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Minter: Charlotte Was First Love

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 27 2010

The ticket office at Charlotte in 1960. George Washington is rumored to have slept there, but not bought race tickets. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Motor Speedway)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Concord, N.C. – Riding up the road from Atlanta to Charlotte Motor Speedway this morning with my RacinToday co-worker Jeff Hood, my mind kept wandering back to my teenage years, when I made basically the same trip as the kid riding along with some much older me who were some of the most rabid NASCAR fans the sport has ever known.

NASCAR history has been in the news lately with the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the emphasis on the sport’s pioneers that has come with it.

For many in the sport who are my age (mid-50s), some of NASCAR’s best years were in the ’70s, when races weren’t shown live on TV and the only way to truly experience the sport was to be there in person.

Being a NASCAR fan back then was like being a part of an exclusive club. When you got back home, and in my case to school the next day, people sought you out to find out about the races.

Much like attending a race today, some of the most memorable parts of the overall experience occurred off the race track.

On our trips, an older cousin of mine, Wesley Stubbs, often did the driving. His brother Weldon was there too, but since his average speed on the road was about 30 miles per hour slower than Wesley’s, he spent a lot of time riding shotgun.

The conversation was lively, and mostly about racing.

We usually packed egg sandwiches for breakfast and fried chicken for lunch, and we’d stop at an all-night truck stop diner in South Carolina on the way home.

One of my favorite memories of those trips to Charlotte Motor Speedway back in the 1970s came from our first stop at the track – at a great old house out front that had been converted into a ticket office.

The white frame house had holes cut into the side walls that were used as ticket windows. Despite the tacky modifications, the house was a treasure, surrounded by giant shade trees in what would have been a great location if not for the superspeedway out the back door.

Legend had it then and now that George Washington once ate lunch and rested in the house during a trip through North Carolina.

The very idea of buying a ticket from a hole in the side of a house that George Washington once occupied for a time was almost as special as seeing the great old race track behind it.

It also was neat to request tickets in the Ford section of the grandstands, as the Stubbs brothers wouldn’t even consider riding in anything other than blue oval products. And David Pearson and the Wood Brothers, with their Fords and Mercuries, usually gave our gang plenty to cheer about.

GM fans had their section in the middle of the grandstands, and the Chrysler folks sat on the fourth turn side, as I recall. Occasionally, someone from one manufacturer would taunt the opposition by parading a bed sheet with a painted message in front of the stands.

The beer bottles raining down on the sign carriers led to those “$100 fine for throwing objects onto the track” signs that hung on the catchfence for years at Charlotte and others speedways.

Today the manufacturer seating remains, although it doesn’t seem to be as big a deal to fans as it was 30-something years ago.

The stately old ticket office/house is gone, torn down and replaced, as best as I can tell, by the press box parking lot and the TV compound.

It’s a shame that the great old house on the grounds of the speedway lives on only in the memories of those who once visited it, but it is encouraging to know that the Hall of Fame should facilitate the preservation of other important pieces of the history of NASCAR.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 27 2010
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