A Lightning-Fast History
Discover outlaws and icons on the Moonshine & Motorsports TrailBy Jessie Lang
Video courtesy of N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The popularity of both moonshine and motorsports in the 1950s arose out of the daily life of many residents across the state, who made moonshine to support their families in rural areas. What once was a hobby between local bootleggers eventually evolved into the international sport of stock car racing. The Moonshine & Motorsports Trail, sponsored by the NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources (DNCR), immerses travelers in the history and connection between the two industries.
“It’s important to provide a space for these often-unsung stories and a map of important racing and distilling locations so North Carolinians and visitors alike can access these spaces,” said DNCR Digital Engagement Manager Karl Galloway.
North Wilkesboro Speedway
Wilkesboro, Wilkes County
To understand racing’s connection to moonshine, The North Wilkesboro Speedway is a good place to start. Revenuers dubbed Wilkes County the “Moonshine Capital of the World.” Running moonshine involved fast driving, later resulting in car racing.
Enoch Staley built the speedway in 1946, launching the racing career of moonshiner Junior Johnson.
After closing in 1996, the speedway underwent renovations in 2021 and reopened to great fanfare in May 2023 for the NASCAR All-Star Race.
Hillsborough, Orange County
A unique spot on the trail was one of the first two NASCAR tracks to open in the 1949 inaugural season. The only dirt track remaining, Occoneechee Speedway closed in 1968 and was later added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Many NASCAR icons raced here, including Louise Smith, Fireball Roberts, Wendell Scott and Lee Petty.
Visiting the track feels like entering another time. The preservation of the ticketing station, flag stand and abandoned cars make visiting the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail awe-inspiring. The track served as inspiration for the Disney movie “Cars 3.”
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Concord, Cabarrus County
The Charlotte Motor Speedway opened in 1960 and has an intriguing history. One of its founders, Curtis Turner, was an infamous bootlegger from the Appalachian Mountains who went on to become a racing legend, winning 17 races in NASCAR’s Cup Series. Fans still flock to this track today, considered the crown jewel of motorsports.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
Charlotte, Mecklenburg County
Charlotte’s significance to stock car racing made it no surprise when NASCAR opened their Hall of Fame here in 2010, as Charlotte was known as the “Stock Car Racing Capital of the World.” The museum is a walk through the history of motorsports and doesn’t shy away from its connection to moonshine — one exhibit includes a moonshine still built by Hall of Fame member Junior Johnson.
Rockingham, Richmond County
Due to the popularity of motorsports in the ’60s, many believed that rural communities would benefit from a speedway in Rockingham. Nicknamed “The Rock,” the track, built in 1964, was championed by businessman L.G. DeWitt.
Stone Mountain State Park
Roaring Gap, Alleghany County
If you’re looking for a challenging hike across mountainous terrain and wish to learn about the significance of moonshine in Appalachia, Stone Mountain State Park spans 14,472 acres and features abandoned moonshine stills dating back to the 1950s. Hikers have found approximately 200 stills in the park, many of which weren’t discovered by revenuers.
Two other stops on the trail are North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula and the North Carolina History Museum. Sure to enthrall both sports fans and history lovers, the sites on this trail are not to be missed. Visit ncmmtrail.com for more information on these and all the stops along the trail.
About the AuthorJessie Lang is the 2023 editorial intern for Carolina Country.
NC auto history