HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — One of the first two NASCAR tracks to open still exists in North Carolina. Despite not hosting a race in decades, it is still welcoming thousands of people every year. The historic Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough is now a unique nature trail.
The number of people walking the nature trail of Occoneechee Speedway is only expected to grow as it is now part of the North Carolina Moonshine and Motorsports Trail. Neighbors in the area have been enjoying the track, for walking and running, for two decades. The track’s history with stock car racing traces back to the 1940s.
From the excitement of watching NASCAR’s first drivers in the 1950s, to the relaxation of a walking trail today.
“This trail was a gift. We had no idea it was here when we first moved in,” said neighbor, Susan Galdy.
Occoneechee Speedway has a rich history dating back to the day it opened in 1947. Much of that history is still visible. From the old racecars that have become one with nature, to the original concrete grandstands that can still be used as a place to unwind.
There may not be any races starting from the flag stand, but the track still sees thousands of visitors every year from people who just want to get outside
“We saw a snail trial, we saw two purple butterflies, we saw dogs walking by,” said neighbor, Karen Tucker.
When the track closed in 1968 there wasn’t much nature to be found. Richard Petty took home the final win before the track sat empty for nearly three decades. It reopened in 2003 as a nature trail with many walking the plot of land thinking about the men and women who once competed.
“I am a big history buff. So I love the fact that we are not only walking where all these famous race car drivers were and all the people who came in the area to watch,” said Galdy.
A historical marker along the path details just how many people came to watch races at the venue. Today volunteers help maintain the historic land, which most recently became part of a state park.
“Like anything you use on a regular basis, you don’t want to see it decline into ill use or misuse or just start to look rundown,” said neighbor, Elliot Galdy.
Originally the track was a one-mile dirt track but was then shortened slightly to a .9-mile facility. It’s named after the Occaneechi Indians that lived in the area in the later 17th century.
If you are looking to visit the trail, the trailhead is about an hour and 45-minute drive north of Charlotte.