Most folks will tell you that the end of an era is when you stop being able to go to a sporting event, play video games, or watch TV. However, there is more to ending an era than meets the eye. In this article, we will discuss three ways that the racing scene in Metrolina changed after the speedway closed.
Racing Changed Forever
After the speedway closed, it was not only the local residents who mourned the passing of the oval tracks. The racing world also felt the impact as well, as many considered Metrolina to be one of the top five short-tracks in the country. The following season saw the introduction of a new asphalt oval track in Virginia named, you guessed it, “Metrolina.” Even more significantly, NASCAR held a celebration in 1972 to honor the opening of the new track. This marked the beginning of a new era in NASCAR. Since that time, the sport has grown dramatically, and today, Metrolina is considered by many to be the “grandfather” of all oval tracks in the United States. In addition to opening the door for NASCAR, the speedway also helped to bring the World Class Racing concept to the south. This series of events helped to shape professional motorsport as we know it today.
Track Changes & New Ownership
The track changes were arguably the most significant impact that the speedway had on motorsport. For decades, the only real options for race fans in the area were the now-demolished Carolina Speedway in Woodbury and South Park Stadium in Gastonia. When the speedway closed in 1970, it was the beginning of a new era for motorsport in the region. The track changes are considered to be the greatest in history, as the asphalt track was moved to an electronic billboard near the traffic light at Interstate 85. This allowed fans to get a taste of what real racing was like, and it also helped bring motorsport to a broader audience. The only downside was that the track was often plagued by accidents, and it had the ignominious distinction of being the first NASCAR oval track to be taken off-site and relocated.
The track changes also had a significant impact on the ownership of the speedway. Prior to the track changes, the track was owned and operated by the local Kiwanis Club. However, when the track was moved, the billboard company that owned the property sold the speedway to a group of Charlotte businessmen. The Kiwanis Club retained the rights to the stadium and continued to own the infield of the track. This marked the beginning of a new era for the speedway. For decades, the Charlotte Knights were the only team that called the Metrolina Speedway home. However, the team sold their stake in the track in 2004 and moved to Winston-Salem. Since that time, the track has been known as the “Hole in the Woods” and is currently owned and operated by Spaulding Holdings.
Attendance & Television Coverage
Prior to the track changes, the only time that most people in the area got to see racing was at the now-demolished Carolina Speedway. The closing of the speedway coincided with the beginning of the end for amateur and professional racing in the area. This was most evident in the decline of the International Motorcycle Association in the 1970s and ‘80s. However, the closing of the track did help to bring more people to the area, as it coincided with the rise of the personal computer. Many consider the birth of the PC to be directly attributable to the success of the NASCAR races at the Metrolina Speedway. It was the perfect platform to showcase the power of the personal computer as the sport itself was becoming more sophisticated. Attendance began to decline after the birth of the PC, and it has never fully recovered.
The closing of the track also spurred the creation of a number of community-based motorsport organizations, including the National Sprint League, the Carolina Association of Racing Drivers, and the Women’s Amateur Sports Association. These organizations helped to carry on the spirit of racing in the area. However, even those organizations could not halt the inexorable decline of motorsport in the Carolinas, as more and more people began to see it as a pastime, rather than a sport. Television coverage also began to wane, as local stations began declining in favor of large network affiliates out of Raleigh and Durham. This meant that for the most part, Metrolina and its inhabitants were largely forgotten by most outside of the area.
However, as previously stated, the end of an era is a relative term. Today, Metrolina is often considered to be the epitome of what a short-track should look like. The asphalt track is now surrounded by warehouses, car dealerships, and fast food restaurants. Despite the negative changes that the speedway had on the local racing community, it was an important part of their history. For the most part, the local economy revolves around motorsport, as many now work in the industry, and it continues to grow. Most significantly, the sport of NASCAR was also born out of the ashes of the speedway. In addition to opening the door for NASCAR, the track also helped to spark an industry that has shaped modern day motorsports.