Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Columbia Speedway: Preserving a Piece of Racing Heritage

If a race track could talk, the Columbia Speedway would sure have some stories to tell.

It might tell you about July 12, 1958, the day Richard Petty scored his first win. Or March 16, 1966, when Fonty Flock gave Chevrolet its first victory. Then there’s the time Frank Mundy won NASCAR’s first-ever race under the lights. Not to mention all the races with legends like Buddy Baker, Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, Cotton Owens and South Carolina’s favorite son David Pearson.

Located just outside Columbia, SC in the small burg of Cayce, the half-mile dirt track hosted its first race in 1948. It was NASCAR sanctioned in 1951 and ran NASCAR races there until the early 1970s. That’s a lot of time for memories to mount up and history to be made.

Now, thanks to the folks at Racers Reunion, this historic place and all of the great racing moments that took place there will be shared with future generations of NASCAR fans.

Jeff Gilder, the founder of Racers Reunion, announced last week that Columbia Speedway will be turned into a first-class events facility and that a museum will also be built on the site.

“The track was an important track in the formative years of our sport,” Guilder said. “We need this to preserve our racing heritage. Too many tracks have gone by the way being replaced with condos, Wal-marts, golf courses, etc. The cool thing about this track is that its owners would rather have a race track than a Wal-mart.”

But will any new racing memories be made at Columbia Speedway? “We will return the track back to meet racing specs,” Gilder said. “Whether there will ever be racing there is a question to be answered later.”

Racers Reunion, the group heading up the preservation effort, is an online social network that brings former drivers, crew members and fans together to share connect, share memories, and just talk shop. About 100 of its members (all volunteer) banded together earlier this year to save the Columbia Speedway, hosting the first annual Love Chevrolet Columbia Speedway Spring Festival on April 25.

According to Gilder, the event was attended by 30 thousand people from 17 different states and Puerto Rico. And a host of legendary faces from racing’s past were present as well, including Buddy Baker, Ned Jarrett, Dave Marcis, Little Bud Moore, Gene Hobby, Dick and Johnny Dangerfield, D.K. Ulrich, and at least a dozen other former drivers.

“The response was greater than anyone expected,” Guilder said. “Now the community, the city of Cayce, the county, and surrounding areas have realized the potential of the facility and have embraced our efforts to preserve the track and create an events facility that can be used by a variety of events.”

If you’d like to get involved, fan help is always welcome. There are coordinated work groups that get together to keep up with the track's maintenance. And donations are also accepted on the Racers Reunion web site.

“This race track is one that always prompts some great stories when mentioned to anyone who was there as a spectator or participant,” Gilder said. “All the drivers who raced there agree about the importance of this track.”

Note from NASCAR-ista: Racers Reunion will be holding their 2nd annual Spring Festival in 2010. Love's Chevrolet has just re-signed as the events primary sponsor.

Photo caption: Little Bud Moore drives on to victory at the Columbia Speedway - courtesy of RacersReunion.com

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