Richard Petty and North Carolina’s Last NASCAR Dirt Track Race

The State Fairgrounds Speedway, located in Raleigh, North Carolina was a half-mile oval dirt racetrack that sponsored auto races for NASCAR’s top series in 1955, 1969 and 1970.  Now known as “The King” of NASCAR Hall of Famer, Richard Petty won the last Grand National race on the dirt track.  Although the track is no longer used as a motor speedway, the grandstand, now called the Sam G. Rand Grandstand, still remains and is used today for events held at the North Carolina State Fair.

Aerial photo of old State Fairground Speedway in Raleigh, North Carolina – Photo Credit: NC State Archives

North Carolina’s State Fairground Speedway began in 1928 on a half-mile oval dirt track used for horse racing.  Racecar fans would pack the fairgrounds to watch races and was temporarily halted in 1941 due to the outbreak of WWII.   Races commenced again in 1946 after the end of the war, but it wasn’t until 1955 the State Fairground Speedway hosted the first NASCAR event.  But the race was cut short due to rain delays and Junior Johnson was declared the winner as he was leading at the time. Donald Pearson won the championship in 1969 which tied him with Lee Petty for the most championships in NASCAR history.

The State Fairgrounds Speedway was honored of being the last dirt track to ever host a NASCAR race.

It was “the end of an era,” stated Richard Petty to reminiscing about the last dirt track race that took place on September 30, 1970.  “It was just a rough old dirt track where all they had done was run horses around it.  I remember some guy going into the first corner there, they had horse barns on the outside of the race track, something happened to one of the cars and he went tearing off and landed in one of the horse barns. Luckily, there weren’t any horses in them. You remember stuff like that.”  It was the last time one of NASCAR’s top touring series was completed on a dirt track.

NASCAR Home State 200 race at State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, NC, the last dirt track NASCAR race ever, 30 September 1970 – Photo Credit: NC State Archives

Each season, more than 40 races were held at dirt tracks during the early years of NASCAR.  By 1970, the State Fairgrounds Speedway was one of the three dirt tracks left.  “A lot of times on dirt, the driver makes up more … than he can on asphalt because the cars run sideways, run into holes and all that stuff. I always felt the driver could make up so much more then. It was so much fun. On asphalt, they always got one groove, maybe around the middle, maybe outside. But on dirt, you could go anywhere you needed to run fast. You could run outside, in the middle, up against the banking. It was more of a challenge. The fun deal was (racing on) dirt,” Petty stated to

Lee Petty, Richard’s father, holds the record for most NASCAR dirt-track wins with 42.

Petty and Pearson on the dirt at Columbia Speedway in 1964. Photo Credit: Richard Petty Motorsports

With bigger, better-equipped paved tracks becoming more prominent and dirt tracks on the way out, teams had begun selling off cars that had been run on dirt. When the occasional need for such a car resurfaced,” Petty said the teams stuck a bargain with those who had purchased the cars.” Such was the case with his winning entry at Raleigh.

“We would borrow the car back from whoever we had sold it to,” Petty said. “We would take the car back in, completely disassemble it, put all-new suspension under it, all new brakes, motor, rear-ends, everything. Then we’d go run it on dirt.  And when the race was over, we’d give them the car back. We didn’t rent it from them; we just upgraded their cars so they’d have all the new stuff. So they came out on top.”

The Charlotte News – October 1, 1970

Richard Petty charged out of the pit and took the lead on the 89th lap in his 1970 Plymouth Road Runner ahead of Benny Parsons and cruised to the 117th victory of his career to win $1,100.  Parsons, driving a 1970 Ford, led laps 14 through 88 when a caution flag, the only one of the 100-mile event, brought an influx of drivers into the pits.  Petty made his pit stop 4 seconds quicker than Parsons and took the lead for the first time.  Parsons lasted only seven more laps after that caution when his A-frame dropped on the back straightaway.  Second Place went to Dodge independent Neil Castles who finished three laps off Petty’s pace.  Castles topped team Dodge pilot and GN point leader Bobby Isaac, who finished third.  Petty’s average speed fell just under 70 miles per hour.  The victory was his third straight, coming on the heels of successive wins at Richmond, Virginia and Dover, Delaware.

NASCAR’s roots have a lot to do with dirt and most of those lost speedways are hidden in history across the southeast. Although there was a fair amount of dirt track racing back in the dirt track days, most of the details are missing. North Carolina had no known racing until about 1921 when races were held at the Kinston Fairgrounds.

Hope Thompson
Hope Thompson

Hope Thompson is the editor and publisher of Unmasked History Magazine. She has been a freelance journalist for seven years and has published articles for popular media websites such as Her focus has been on the hidden history, Native American culture, activism, Appalachian and Southern folklore traditions.

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