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Bringing Everything But the Dirt: Throwback Night at Wake County Speedway

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

In today's short-track racing circles, you can usually find fans of racing on dirt and fans of racing on asphalt, but not always fans who love both kinds of racing. Or as some dirt track followers like to say, "pavement is used for getting to the track...but dirt is used for racing."

Wake County Speedway was carved out of the reddish brown North Carolina clay of the Piedmont region over 60 years ago and operated successfully as a "backyard dirt track" for some twenty-four years. But before the conclusion of the 1986 racing season, brothers Glenn and Talmadge Simpkins, who founded and had managed Raleigh, North Carolina's quarter-mile dirt oval since its 1962 birth, made a BIG pave it!

Early 1970s image of the Wake County Speedway "dirt track" near Raleigh, N.C., looking north towards turn 3.

By the early 1980s, the Capital City and its neighbor to the south, Garner, began to encroach further and further toward Wake County Speedway. What had once been grassy pastures and small family farm homes near the speedway during the previous decade, were developing into subdivisions, local business parks, and shopping centers along US Highway 401.

NASCAR too was growing up during this time, becoming a major player on network sports TV nationwide as it groomed race car drivers into household names like Petty, Yarborough, and Earnhardt just to name a few. The last time the top NASCAR Cup series even raced on dirt was in 1970 at the old N.C. State Fairgrounds Speedway in Raleigh, a race won by Richard Petty by the way.

An aerial view of newly paved Wake County Speedway around 1987.

That "big" decision to pave a thriving dirt track in 1987 was not an easy move, but then again, nothing about building a race track on your family's land and working to help it grow and thrive over several decades is easy. But just as Wake County Speedway had taken root during the 1960s and established itself as a local and regional favorite among drivers and fans, so would the newly "paved" asphalt oval located just a stone's throw from Glenn Simpkins Garage on Simpkins Road.

Many of the regular drivers from the dirt track days made the conversion to the paved racing surface like Ricky Page, Ervin Rigsbee, and Randy Renfrow, continuing to chalk up more trips to victory lane. The fans continued to come too, maybe even more so, now that they wouldn't have to go home covered in a fine layer of red clay dust after a Friday night in the grandstands.

Wake County Speedway Co-Founder, Glenn Simpkins and his #21 Ford Thunderbird in Victory Lane

As the decades have raced by and the Simpkins family no longer manages the daily tasks of running "America's Favorite Bullring", (as it's been dubbed since 2013 when a new owner came on the scene), Wake County Speedway continues to evolve while also keeping one brake shoe firmly planted in its roots.

On Friday, August 19th at 8 pm, the current staff and management of Wake County Speedway will honor nearly 60 retired drivers, track staff, and surviving family members during a 60th Anniversary Celebration dubbed "Throwback Night."

After a special presentation to the honored guests, including a grandstand dedication, the Line-X of Raleigh 155 will be highlighted with a 60-lap shootout between today's hot shot drivers in the Late Model Series. Twin 15-lap Country Superstars Bandoleros are set to do battle in a tight points race for the track championship, followed by INEX Legends, Mod-4 cylinders, and the fan favorite, Regal Driving Academy Bombers.

Be sure to join us Friday night for a Throwback Night to remember, presented by Line-X of Raleigh, The Stock Car Racing Team Game, and North State Signs and Printing. Enjoy plenty of great food from Mad Pitta and The Raccoon Grill.

We're sure you'll want to take home a piece of Wake County Speedway history to remember the night by, so pick up the official Throwback Night poster and see how many driver's autographs you can collect. Or, grab a 60th Anniversary Season t-shirt from Mike's Speed Shop. Rumor has it that authentic Wake County Speedway clay dirt will be available as a souvenir too.

Also on hand August 19th will be the unveiling of a J.D. McDuffie-inspired #70 pedal car to help celebrate the new mural being painted of Sanford's native NASCAR son, who, along with his late brother Glenn McDuffie, raced from time to time at the old Wake County Speedway dirt track in the 1970s.

Visit our special Throwback Night page and "virtual hero card" section for even more old-school history from the track the Simpkins family built.

**Note** In the event of a rain cancellation on August 19th, the make-up date will be Friday, August 26th. Please follow @wakecountyspeedway on Facebook for the latest event/weather related updates.

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