BY KEITH WALTZ
Built by NASCAR founder Bill France in 1947, Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, North Carolina, served as a cornerstone of the fledgling sanctioning body for nearly 20 years.
The 0.9-mile dirt track hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race during the tour’s inaugural season in 1949, and the sport’s stars last traded paint at the legendary facility in 1968.
An estimated 17,500 fans were in attendance on Aug. 7, 1949, when Bob Flock drove his 1948 Oldsmobile to victory in race No. 3 of the Cup Series’ debut season. Flock averaged 76.8 mph in beating Goober Sosebee and Glenn Dunnaway to the checkered flag.
Occoneechee Speedway hosted 32 NASCAR Cup Series races before increasing opposition to Sunday racing at the track forced it to close. A new paved superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama, eventually took its place on the NASCAR schedule.
Richard Petty was seven laps ahead of James Hylton after 150 miles of racing during the final major NASCAR race at Occoneechee Speedway on Sept. 15, 1978. Petty led 155 of the 167 laps and spent much of the event battling David Pearson before a blown engine relegated Pearson to 12th in the final rundown.
Buck Baker, Lee Petty and Richard Petty were to the top NASCAR Cup Series race winners at Occoneechee Speedway with three wins each. Eight drivers visited Victory Lane twice at the track.
Today, the track site is on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s maintained by a non-profit organization, The Historic Speedway Group. The site is heavily forested, but the grandstands and much of the track are still visible.