The Roanoker - July/August 2020 - 10

NASCAR at Roanoke

The summer of 1950 brought stock car racing to Victory Stadium.

ABOVE, LEFT:
Bill France congratulates
Curtis Turner on a victory,
undated.
ABOVE, RIGHT:
Program cover from a
NASCAR event at Victory
Stadium in 1952.

10

JULY/AUGUST 2020

ROANOKE CITY COUNCIL was skeptical. They
heard about auto racing once before in the late 1940s
and felt they had been hoodwinked. Granted it was
midget cars, but the promoters had lost money and
never made good on what they owed the city from
concessions and tickets. The crowds were small, the
cars slow and interest faded.
When Bill France and Curtis Turner appeared
before city council in the spring of 1950 to talk racing
at Victory Stadium, the council had little interest. City
Manager Arthur Owens echoed the sentiments of the
group when he raised pointed questions about finances,
contracts, concession sales, noise and ticket prices.
Turner, who had moved to the Roanoke Valley
in 1947 with his wife Ann, was undeterred. He
described to the council that stock car racing had a

future. France, who had cobbled together the National
Association of Stock Car Auto Racing with thirtyfive men in the Ebony Room of Daytona's Streamline
Hotel just a few years earlier, quickly made an offer.
" Give us four races! "
The council turned to Owens, who agreed to meet
with the two and work out an arrangement. A couple
of years prior, Owens had instructed police to pull
down racing fliers on light poles as the promoters were
not paying what they owed. The council gave France
and Turner permission for four races, but only four, on
the track at Victory Stadium. Any more would depend
on the money and the crowds.
Turner had already gained a following in Roanoke,
especially those that hung out at Paul Cawley's gas
station on Grandin Road. The two men had become
good friends. Cawley recalled having breakfast with
Turner one Sunday morning at the Coffee Pot when
Turner suggested the two race to the Floyd County
line in what became a weekly ritual.
" It was thrilling. There wasn't any traffic. The only
thing is, sometimes we'd get to racing when church
was letting out and the sheriff would call down to
the filling station and say, 'Ya'll quit that racing! It's
Sunday morning, and I'm trying to keep the telephone
on the hook.' He was nice so we wiped it out. "
Each of the four races that summer featured
amateur events preceding the 25-lap NASCAR
contest. Railroad ties edged the inside track, but they
were hardly a barrier for the occasional car that spun
out of control into the football field. There was Stubby

TheRoanoker.com

BILL TURNER: COURTESY OF THE TURNER FAMILY / PROGRAM COVER: COURTESY OF NELSON HARRIS

strange days of roanoke


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