SILENT HISTORY: Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds Speedway, Greenville-Pickens Speedway Once Hosted NASCAR Greats

Two of the cradles of what would eventually become the NASCAR Cup Series are silent now. One’s been dormant for decades. One fell quiet just recently.

Both, though, deserve to be remembered.

That’s why you’ll find tributes to Greenville-Pickens Speedway and the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds Speedway on the hood and deck lid of the Stewart-Haas/Harrison’s No. 4 Ford Mustang Dark Horse throwback package for Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend in May. 

The two tracks are as vital to NASCAR history as any tracks, anywhere.

In Spartanburg, Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds Speedway promoter Joe Littlejohn was a friend of NASCAR founder Bill France. The Fairgrounds’ dirt track hosted NASCAR’s best drivers from 1953 through 1966, spanning 22 events, and the list of winners reads like a Who’s Who of drivers from the era. Ned Jarrett won six races there. Richard and Lee Petty notched wins, as did local favorite Cotton Owens. Jack Smith, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock, Ralph Moody, Marvin Panch, Speedy Thompson, Jim Paschal, and Elmo Langley all brought home first-place wins. Wendell Scott started his NASCAR career at the Fairgrounds.

When the track fell off of the NASCAR schedule, there were still dirt races to look forward to during the week of the Piedmont Interstate Fair, when the best dirt racers around would converge on Spartanburg to put on a show for the fans. As recently as 20 years ago, the track roared back to life, with Chuck Piazza and David Pearson taking wins in classic coupes and sedans from the 1930s and 1940s. Dennis Williams took the win in one of the last dirt Super Late Model events at the Fairgrounds.

Greenville-Pickens is another story. The popular asphalt track, one of a very few remaining in South Carolina that held weekly races, ceased operations in 2023. There have been rumors of a sale, but a deal, if there is one, seems far from certain. Instead, fans are left in limbo, wondering what’s to become of one of the Southeast’s most historic tracks.

Winners at Greenville-Pickens include David Pearson, Ralph Earnhardt, Butch Lindley, Mardy Lindley, Buddy Howard, Elmo Henderson, Jeff Hawkins, Floyd Powell, Kenneth Harden, David Roberts, Cameron Bolin, Dexter Canipe, and Anthony Anders. But it’s not just history. Greenville-Pickens winners include a laundry list of current drivers including Bubba Wallace, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Brett Moffitt, Austin Hill, Ben Rhodes, William Byron, Justin Haley, and Corey LaJoie. Current SHR/Harrison’s driver Josh Berry, the winningest driver in the history of the CARS Tour, has multiple visits to victory lane at the track.

Local racing announcer, historian, and super-fan Dale Wilkerson, who hosted a long-running radio show centered around local, regional, and national racing, said seeing those historic names at Greenville-Pickens was a treat for fans.

“With Greenville-Pickens Speedway not hosting races now, most of us diehard race fans miss walking in the grandstands and reading the names of the former track champions,” he said.

It’s not just the fans who miss it. Tasha Kummer is the first woman to ever win a Late Model race at Greenville-Pickens. Her family – father, brother, nephews – make up some of the names on the wall. Racing and attending races at Greenville-Pickens was a way of life for her.

“I’ve been there every weekend they were open probably since I was born,” she said. “It’s iconic. You go and see those names on the wall, and you know it’s not like other tracks. Other places don’t have the same feeling to me. It’s just so cool to see those names on the wall and to know you’re at a place that’s got so much history. It’s just unreal.”

“Iconic” might even be an understatement. Greenville-Pickens was so important to NASCAR’s early schedule that the first race ever televised nationally from start to finish was the April 10, 1971 race at the speedway, which appeared on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

But the notoriety of the track isn’t what Kummer misses. She misses the sense of community and the opportunities Greenville-Pickens provided for local racers.

“It’s really put a hurt on the racing community in general,” she said. “This place held racing families together, in a way. Saturday nights were for each other, and for the whole community. I think people are just now realizing how much we really do miss it.”

One person who definitely misses the track is Rodney Childers, crew chief for the No. 4.

“I honestly didn’t know until recently what was going on,” Childers said. “I saw some pictures and some things going around on Twitter about what’s going on down there. Us old-school racers, we want to do everything we can to save these places and to keep them going.”

Childers, himself a Late Model championship driver, said he has fond memories of Greenville-Pickens and hates to see it sit idle. He hopes the track doesn’t share the fate of another South Carolina favorite.

“Losing Myrtle Beach Speedway was a gut punch to me,” he said. “It was my favorite place to race. And Greenville Pickens was a good one, too. I raced a few late model stock races there. Probably on the bigger side of things we had the Slim Jim All Pro races there, the Hooters Cup races there. I raced there a good bit. That’s one of the places that was a hard place to get around. There were some people who were really really good there, and you’d show up and just know you didn’t have a chance of winning if they were there. It’s just an awesome place. To see those names on that hood of people who have come through Greenville-Pickens and what it meant to them, and honestly what it ultimately means to our sport is really important.”

Wilkerson sees the importance in NASCAR history at both tracks. He just hopes the public sees it as well. And he hopes they see that other local tracks are just as important today and going forward.

“We look back at races held in Spartanburg and at Greenville-Pickens and we see the tire tracks that carried many drivers to the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” he said. “We look at the walls and we see scuff marks where some young drivers had growing pains. Current race fans need to know the history of motorsports here in the Upstate. I doubt we’ll see another race at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds, but there’s still hope to see cars on the track again at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. What we can do, though, is support our local tracks that are still hosting races. Whether it’s a touring series or the regular weekend warriors, you’re going to see great action along with a mix of local and regional drivers giving you all they can with every turn of the steering wheel.”

Those interested in the effort to save Greenville-Pickens Speedway should follow The REAL Historic Greenville Pickens Speedway page on Facebook. 

Anderson Motor Speedway, one of just three asphalt tracks in South Carolina holding weekly racing, runs most Friday nights through Fall.

Travelers Rest Speedway hosts dirt track racing on Friday nights.

Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, Laurens Speedway, and Harris Speedway, just north of Chesnee in Rutherford County, N.C., all host Saturday night racing action.

Harrisons PR