Article and photos by Larry Crain
Starting out on North Carolina State Highway 421 and traveling east from the Tennessee state line and the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, you will see a lot of countryside that still echoes with the sound of its automotive past and some of the present.
The Wilkesboro, North Carolina area is a hot bed of automotive racing history - past and present. The present being represented by the oldest drag strip in North Carolina: The Wilkesboro Dragway, where their slogan is “Come Play In Our Backyard”. This 1/8th mile IHRA member track has racing every Saturday April thru October, and test & tune sessions every Thursday night starting in March.
Traveling a little bit further down Highway 421 and on the eastern edge of Wilkesboro, you can see a piece of NASCAR history that is sadly disappearing day by day. The North Wilkesboro Speedway was an original NASCAR dirt track built in 1946, then paved in 1958 and ran NASCAR sanctioned events from 1949-1996. The old race track did see some racing return to its asphalt very briefly in September of 2010 when a then 14-year-old Chase Elliot won a race there. Racing took place again in the following April but in May of 2011, the track closed once again. Sad to see that some of the buildings are already falling down, as you can see in the picture below on the right.
Another NASCAR racing memory of the old North Wilkesboro Speedway can be found just a few more miles down the road, and it is the remnants of an old race car. The beat up remains of car #23 driven by Jimmy Spencer sits under the awning of what used to be an old gas station. Jimmy won his first pole in 1994 at the old NASCAR track, but this old race car recalls other days when it was a part of his Winston/No Bull racing days in 1998. Yes, if you listen very closely, you can almost hear the ghostly echoes of race cars from another time rolling off of the surrounding hills.
Heading further east from Wilkesboro and then a little further north located along state Highway 52 is the city of Mount Airy. If this name rings a bell to some of you older readers, it is because this is the place where Andy Griffith was born and also the city believed to be used as the idea for Mayberry, the setting for the Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD. Strolling around the cities historic area you almost expect to see Andy or Opie walking along the sidewalk or Floyd cutting hair in the barber shop.
Those days are long past, but you can still see someone that closely resembles Barney Fife driving an old Ford Galaxie police cruiser along the old street. This city is the perfect place to gather up some of your gear head friends and crank up the old hot rods to cruise to. Lots of great places to eat, shop, hang out, cruise or find some really great photo locations to shoot you car in front of.
All of this that I have written about was seen and done in one day’s drive from my home in Northeast Tennessee. So what do have in your region that can be seen and done during one day? I’m pretty sure that there is always something for us gearheads to see or do if we just get away from the Interstate system and hit the Back Roads & Side Streets.