FENWICK: Remembering Air Base Speedway

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Adam Fenwick
Adam Fenwick

CONCORD, N.C. — If you’ve never heard of Air Base Speedway, it wouldn’t be all that surprising.

The track, long ago reclaimed by Mother Nature and the ever-growing urban sprawl, was located in Greenville, S.C., and hosted a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 1951.

The story of the track is a cloudy one and one man — Greenville resident Matthew Henson — set out to solve themystery.

Going by the username “S1apSh0es” on YouTube, Henson compiles videos on the history of NASCAR that typically generate a few hundred-thousand views. His video on the aforementioned Air Base Speedway caught our attention.

As a resident of Green­ville and a NASCAR history buff, Henson was stunned when he came across race results from a NASCAR Cup Series event at the track on Aug. 25, 1951.

He’d never heard of Air Base Speedway, much less known that a track in his hometown had hosted NASCAR’s top division in the early 1950s. Greenville-Pickens Speedway, a much better known and still active track in the area, hosted NASCAR’s top division 28 times from 1955 through 1971.

What happened to Air Base Speedway — also known for a time as Textile Speedway — and how had he never heard of it?

A lot of those details, sadly, are lost to time. What he did discover, however, may surprise you.

First of all, the half-mile dirt track hosted night races. Yes, night races in the early 1950s. A newspaper clipping advertising racing at the facility that was submitted to Henson by another online sleuth featured an aerial picture that showed the track had more than 15 light poles in the infield.

Henson figured out that the track — at least for a time — was promoted by Charlie Hicks. Hicks operated the track when it hosted the NASCAR event based on the information Henson tracked down, but another online detective soon discovered what happened to the promoter of the long-forgotten track.

Hicks had apparently been trying to secure a loan for the track and claimed when applying for the loan that he owned the track outright. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.

A clipping from a local newspaper reported Hicks had been charged with obtaining a $2,000 loan under false pretenses. In actuality, the property had a lien against it, which prevented him from selling or leasing the property.

The article was published less than a month after the NASCAR Cup Series event at Air Base Speedway, which was won by Bob Flock.

Another newspaper clipping provided to Henson reported NASCAR driver Buck Baker leased the track for an event in September 1951, but that was the last published report regarding the track.

It’s likely Hicks lost ownership of the track after his brush with the law and the track ceased operations. From there, the track slowly decayed and the area was eventually developed for business purposes.

That might have been the end of the tale, but as luck would have it, SPEED SPORT Magazine published a story on Air Base Speedway in January 2015 titled: “NASCAR’s Forgotten Race.”

Authors John Nelson and Tom Schmeh went over the brief history of the track and recounted the NASCAR Cup Series race run there. The event was held over three days — Aug. 21-23.

Time trials were run on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24, with a driver named Jesse James Taylor from Macon, Ga., setting fast time with a 31.06-second lap around the half-mile dirt circuit.

According to published reports, Taylor led the first six laps before giving way to Flock.

Further details of the race are scarce, but we do know the start was delayed in order to allow Tim Flock to make it to the track after he competed in a race in New Jersey the previous day. Thus, the event ended too late to make press time for the local newspapers.

Records show Bob Flock beating Tim Flock to the finish, but who finished third is open to debate. The Greenville News and National Speed Sport News credited the third Flock brother, Fonty, with finishing third. However, Greg Fielden’s “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing” listed Buck Baker in third.

The most incredible part of this story is that until Nelson and Schmeh published their story in January of 2015, NASCAR records showed the race taking place on Aug. 25, 1951, at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, not Air Base Speedway.

Were it not for the hard work and diligence of both men, Air Base Speedway would have been totally lost to time. Now we know the track existed, exactly where it existed and a few other details that help paint a picture of the long-lost track.

For those interested in reading Nelson and Schmeh’s story on Air Base Speedway, it is available to SPEED SPORT print and digital subscribers on SPEEDSPORT.com.

Also make sure to check out Henson’s video work on YouTube by searching for Air Base Speedway or his username “S1apSh0es.” He got the opportunity to tour the property where Air Base Speedway once stood and shot a video of his findings, which is worth watching if you’re into that sort of thing.