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  About SoBo > Track History

SOUTH BOSTON SPEEDWAY: A Spur-Of-The-Moment Project That Turned Into A Long-Term Success Story

From what was described as a spur-of-the-moment project undertaken by three Halifax County men more than six decades ago, South Boston Speedway has become one of the most popular, well-known and successful short tracks in NASCAR.

The late E.B. “Buck” Wilkins, a Halifax County-based contractor and builder, the late Dave Blount, and the late Louis Spencer purchased the 500-acre John S. McRae farm located northeast of South Boston on what was then known as Route 304, and in 1957, built a quarter-mile dirt racetrack in a natural bowl that, at that time, was concealed from view from the highway.

Today's modern four-tenths-of-a-mile oval is situated along the side of U.S. Route 360 on the original site that was the former McRae Farm.

"We didn't buy the farm with that (building a racetrack) in mind," Wilkins pointed out in a feature story written about him that was published in The Gazette-Virginian newspaper on Wednesday, March 26, 1997.

Wilkins noted in the story that it took about a year to plan and build the quarter-mile dirt oval that was the original South Boston Speedway. Spencer was a partner in the venture for a brief period before Wilkins and Blount bought him out. "We ended up changing it (the track) two or three times," Wilkins said in the story.

For Wilkins and Blount, getting into stock car racing was something of a blind project. "The first race that we saw were the first laps that they raced on our own track," Wilkins recalled in the Gazette-Virginian story.

When the track held its first race on August 10, 1957, there were bleacher seats for 1,000 fans, and the track was lighted by banks of lights perched atop 16 poles erected at various points around the track.

A Halifax County resident, Jimmy Holland of Republican Grove, won the track's first Sportsman Division race in a car owned by Halifax County residents Buddy Ferrell, Harvey Anderson, and Paul Tingen.

Dick Hawthorne of Lynchburg, Virginia won the track's first Amateur Race with LaFell Elliott of South Boston and Garland Newton of Halifax rounding out the top three finishers.

South Boston Speedway has reached a number of milestones in its 63-year history. One of the biggest occurred a little more than two years after Wilkins and Blount opened the quarter mile dirt track, when they, with the help of late Martinsville Speedway owner and president H. Clay Earles, took the steps to bring South Boston Speedway into the NASCAR fold prior to the start of the 1960 season.
South Boston Speedway held its first NASCAR sanctioned race on April 16, 1960. Johnny Roberts of Baltimore, Md. won the track's first NASCAR race, a 50-lap race for the Modified division. He collected $500 for his effort.

Eddie Crouse of Richmond went on to win the track's NASCAR Modified Division title that year to become the track's first NASCAR champion.

That year of 1960 also brought the track's first ever NASCAR Grand National (now known as the NASCAR Cup Series) race. The legendary Junior Johnson won that race held on July 8, 1960 after surviving a hard-fought side by side battle with Ned Jarrett that lasted for 108 laps before Jarrett's engine blew.

Richard Petty, the heralded king of NASCAR Cup Series racing, has five trophies from the South Boston Speedway tucked away in his trophy cases.

Many other NASCAR racing legends including Joe Weatherly, Rex White, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Buck Baker, and Wendell Scott competed at the South Boston Speedway in NASCAR Grand National (now known as NASCAR Cup Series) races.
Scott, the first African-American driver to compete at the South Boston Speedway on a regular basis, also raced in Modified Division events at the historic facility.

While Wilkins and Blount were responsible for the start of racing at South Boston Speedway, others have played key roles as well.
During one brief period in the track's history, Wilkins and Blount stepped aside from promoting races at the speedway in the early 1970's and leased the facility to South Boston native, the late C.C. "Clem" Chandler.

After the 1972 season, South Boston Speedway dropped out of the NASCAR fold, and in 1973, began to run NASCAR-type Late Model Sportsman races utilizing NASCAR rules. While the track ran as an independent through the 1976 season, many of the nation’s top NASCAR drivers continued to come to the South Boston Speedway to compete in special events.

Wilkins and Blount returned to the helm at South Boston Speedway in 1977. and it was in the spring of that year that South Boston Speedway rejoined NASCAR and signed to become a part of the Winston Racing Series program created that year by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. A nine-race schedule featuring NASCAR Late Model Sportsman races was held that year.

After Blount's death on October 31, 1982, Wilkins and Tommy Blount, the son of the track's late co-founder, took over the reins of the speedway’s operation.

Along with the change in management, there was a change in the racing as the NASCAR Late Model Stock Cars emerged as the featured racing division in 1982.

Wilkins and Tommy Blount continued to operate South Boston Speedway through 1984. During the off-season prior to the start of the 1985 season, Mason C. Day Sr. of South Boston and his son, Mike Day, purchased the South Boston Speedway.

Prior to the start of the 1990 season, the elder Day took over ownership of the speedway. And, in 1993, Mason C. Day, Jr. took over at the helm of the speedway, continuing the involvement of the Day family.

Joe Mattioli acquired the speedway in 2000, and in 2004, the late Dr. Joseph Mattioli purchased the track. The Mattioli Family has owned and operated the speedway since that time. Nick Igdalsky, the track’s CEO, oversees its operation along with General Manager Cathy Rice.

A History Of Continuous Improvement

The South Boston Speedway facility has undergone steady improvements since its origin in 1957. After five years of promoting dirt track races, Wilkins and Blount expanded the racing surface to .357 mile, paved the speedway, and constructed a concrete retaining wall around the facility.

The start of the 1977 season was marked by a major improvement program for the facility. Wilkins and Blount had a new concrete facility constructed in the infield to house a concession stand, restroom facilities, a scoring stand, and storage area.

Along with that, the grandstands on the frontstretch were expanded to create a seating capacity of 6,000, and an additional 1,600 grandstand seats were constructed on the backstretch to give the speedway a seating capacity of 7,600 persons.

Two years later, in 1979, the South Boston Speedway was repaved by the South Boston based Mason C. Day Paving Company firm. Immediately afterward, the racing speeds skyrocketed.

Prior to the 1985 season, another series of improvements were made to the South Boston Speedway including the paving of the backstretch pit area, the installation of a new electronic scoreboard and a new sound system.

A new lighting system was installed at the speedway prior to the start of the 1987 season. Prior to the start of the 1989 season, a new enclosed scoring tower and a new VIP tower were constructed.

A massive renovation and improvement program prior to the start of the 1994 season led to the track’s expansion from a .357-mile oval to the current .4-mile oval.

In 2017, a $1 million renovation project was concluded at the speedway. That project included the repaving of the racing surface, renovations to the frontstretch grandstands, updates to the track’s lighting and PA systems, improvements to aid water drainage, and the installation of a new playground for kids.

A Venue Where NASCAR’s Greatest Stars Raced And New Stars Are Born

Throughout the years South Boston Speedway has been a popular venue where a number of NASCAR’s greatest stars visited and raced, and new stars were born.

Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Geoff Bodine, Bobby Allison, Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader and Benny Parsons are among the many stars that have competed at South Boston Speedway over the years. Parsons scored his first career NASCAR Grand National (NASCAR Cup Series) win at South Boston Speedway when the track hosted its last NASCAR Grand National (NASCAR Cup Series) race in 1971.

Waltrip was a winner at South Boston Speedway while competing in NASCAR Late Model Sportsman races. Bodine cut his teeth in racing full bodied stock cars when he came South off of the NASCAR Modified circuit in 1981 to drive for Emanuel Zervakis of Richmond. The former NASCAR Modified driver won nine of 11 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman events and went on to win the South Boston Speedway title that season. He used that experience to vault his way onto the NASCAR Winston Cup Series tour.

In the early 1970's when the NASCAR Grand American Series was popular, drivers such as the late Dwayne "Tiny" Lund, Pete Hamilton, Jim Paschal, Frank Sessoms, and T.C. Hunt competed on the South Boston Speedway oval.

While those drivers have carved their names deep into the record scrolls of the South Boston Speedway and the NASCAR record books, perhaps there is no name that is more familiar to South Boston Speedway fans than that of the late Ray Hendrick.

Hendrick, a legendary driver known for his hard charging driving style, recorded hundreds of wins at the South Boston Speedway during his storied career, many of them coming when he was piloting the famous winged number 11 Modified coupe that was fielded by Jack Tant and Clayton Mitchell.

The Richmond, Virginia resident won five track championships at the South Boston Speedway, four of them while competing in the NASCAR Modified division, and one in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman division.

Over the years, South Boston Speedway has been a breeding ground for a number of NASCAR stars. South Boston natives Jeff Burton and Ward Burton cut their racing teeth competing in the NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division at South Boston Speedway. In their early years, the Burtons became the only brothers to win the South Boston Speedway Most Popular Driver Award. Ward Burton became the first Virginian to win the Daytona 500 when he won “The Great American Race” in 2002.

South Boston Speedway’s 1994 champion, Stacy Compton, went on to a successful career, competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Hermie Sadler and Elliott Sadler of Emporia, Virginia competed in Late Models at South Boston Speedway, with Elliott Sadler winning the track championship as a 20-year-old rising star. NASCAR Cup Series star Denny Hamlin also competed and won multiple times in the Late Model Stock Car Division at South Boston Speedway.

When it comes to winning South Boston Speedway NASCAR track championships, the leader is David Blankenship of Moseley, Virginia.

Blankenship made his mark in the South Boston Speedway record book in 1998 by winning an unprecedented seventh career South Boston Speedway NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division title.

Hendrick’s mark of five South Boston Speedway championships is second to Blankenship’s seven titles. In 2019, Peyton Sellers of Danville, Virginia won his fifth career South Boston Speedway NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division title to move into a tie with Hendrick for second place.

South Boston Speedway Hosts The Best In Racing

When it comes to offering the best in racing at a fan-friendly facility with a family-friendly atmosphere South Boston Speedway is second to none.

Throughout South Boston Speedway’s 63-year history fans have seen a wide variety of racing at South Boston Speedway. A number of NASCAR’s national and regional touring series including the former NASCAR Grand National Series (now known as the NASCAR Cup Series), and the former NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series), of which South Boston Speedway became a charter member in 1982, have competed at South Boston Speedway.

The track has also hosted the NASCAR Truck Series, the former NASCAR Grand American and NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the former and current NASACAR Whelen Modified Tour.
A number of other regional and national touring series have made stops at South Boston Speedway including the ARCA Series, USAC

Sprint Cars and AMA motorcycle motocross and oval-track events.

From its beginning, the story of South Boston Speedway has been one of long-term success, a story of providing the best in racing at a quality fan-friendly facility with a family-friendly atmosphere.

That tradition and history has been celebrated throughout the years, and continues to be celebrated in this, the track’s 63rd year.

 
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