If you’re heading to the park to play baseball or tennis in Jonesville, you might take a step on another piece of NASCAR history without even knowing it.
Meet Elkin Speedway. Located in what is now Lila Swaim Park, the track played just as much of a pivotal part in NASCAR’s roots as the speedway in North Wilkesboro. Also known as Elkin-Jonesville Speedway and Jonesville Speedway, the half-mile track was capable of seating 7,500 spectators, which was the largest of its kind in the Carolinas and Virginia when it opened in 1947. Managed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill France Sr., it was one of 20 tracks that hosted a race during NASCAR’s inaugural year in 1948. They were unique in that it was a doubleheader event for the NASCAR Modified series.
Some of the names that once kicked the dirt up on the half-mile oval are permanently enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They include class of 2011 inductee Ned Jarrett, class of 2014 inductees Tim Flock and Fireball Roberts, as well as Curtis Turner, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. Turner, along with Buddy Shuman, were the two who came home with wins back in October 1948. It would continue to run races from there on out, but would never see a Strictly Stock race until it finally closed.
What does it look like now? I had to know, so I drove about five minutes south of The Tribune office across the bridge to Stadium Drive. At the end of the dead-end road was what is now Lila Swaim Park. The property was owned by Lila Swaim until her death, with the park opening. Baseball fields, tennis courts and picnic areas appeared to be worn out and not used in a while. I went to explore.
I found satellite photos of the old track layout, and someone created an overlay of that over a current satellite image of the area. I noticed that while the road is closed to traffic, the curving pavement outside of the farthest east field, as well as the pavement to the right of the tennis courts that curves around to a parking lot mirrors turn two, the backstretch, and turns three and four of the old track, and it can be walked on. I followed the curve and found the front stretch, where the grandstands have since been removed. According to people who live near the track, crews blew up the stands about a year ago, leaving only a few chunks of concrete around the dirt near one of the three baseball fields.
There’s a plaque near one of the picnic areas commemorating Lila Swaim, but there is nothing that recognizes the history that track made in a ground-breaking year for NASCAR. That needs to change.
If not for the success of the NASCAR Modified series back in 1948, NASCAR would not be where it is today. Who knows what might have happened to someone like Elkin’s Barney Hall, a legendary announcer for the Motor Racing Network, if the dirt track didn’t exist? Hall said in his book, “Barney Hall’s Tales from Trackside” that Elkin Speedway was home to the first race he ever attended as a kid as the sport was only beginning its growth.
The track might be gone, but its history should not go away. It’s time for the town to embrace that it was part of something that changed the future of one of the largest sports in the country.
Ryan DeCosta is sports reporter for The Tribune and The Yadkin Ripple. He can be reached at 336-258-4052, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @rsdecosta.