Was McCormick Field home to racing car driving?
Today’s bundle of burning questions, my smart answers, and the real deal:
Question: From what I understood, in the 1950s at McCormick Field, for a few years there had been no baseball, and they paved the area through the bases and had stock races- because. It could make an interesting column. Can you verify this?
My answer: Can you imagine how great it would be for Ted E. Tourist to challenge other kid runners to go around the bases in this scenario? I imagine Ted E. driving a Chevy Bel Air ’57. Convertible, of course, to accommodate this giant head. Sure, kids wouldn’t be able to see over the steering wheel, but hey, it’s racing!
real answer: This did happen, from 1956 to 1958, according to former Citizen Times sports reporter Jim Baker.
“There was no outside wall for it, and the canoes were the pits,” said Baker, who was a full-time sports editor for the Citizen Times from 1979 to 1996 and part-time from 2012 to 2015. “The baseball came back in 1959, and it’s been there ever since. “
Male response: Longest circuit at McCormick Field? Has he reached Memorial Stadium?
Baker, who also served as official Asheville Tourists’ scorer from 2006 to 2017, said running notables including Banjo Matthews ran to McCormick during the baseball break.
I also reached out to Pack Library, and Carissa Pfeiffer of Buncombe County Special Collections offered me a treasure trove of old newspaper stories and photos from the races held at McCormick.
“NASCAR is such an important piece of our local history that we have a small section dedicated to it among the books we have here in the Buncombe County Special Collections,” Pfeiffer said via email.
She has attached one page from “Thunder in the Mountains: The History of Racing in Western North Carolina” and two pages from “Mountain Thunder: Stock Car Racing in Buncombe County 1949-1999”, which have a brief history of the era of McCormick Field as a fast lane.
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“Thunder in the Mountains” explained that the Asheville baseball team at the time was affiliated with the Brooklyn Dodgers and played in the Tri-State League.
“In 1955, after the Tri-State League season ended and the team split up, Jim Lowe traveled to the town of Asheville and asked to take over the ball field to create a track. of course, “the book says, noting that the city has agreed to a lease. “The speedway was a quarter-mile paved track with the track circling around the perimeter of the outfield. The flagman’s stand and start / finish line were at home plate.”
The book notes that Matthews made a name for himself at McCormick, at one point winning 13 races in a row. His streak ended at the hands of Ralph Earnhardt, another famous last name in the race.
By the way, Jim Lowe’s last name may be familiar to the family business, which has become Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores.
As you can imagine, it was a pretty narrow trail, and “Thunder in the Mountains” explained that “it wasn’t so much how fast you were going, but how you moved around the trail.
“This was seen in the speeds at which they ran during a NASCAR Grand National race held on the park’s ball circuit,” the book reads. “The average speed for this race was around 46.440 mph, a blazing speed at the time.”
Bob Terrell, sports journalist and longtime Citizen Times columnist, who died in 2009, wrote about the transformation of McCormick Field into a racing venue, calling it “a place that would hardly be remembered from his old baseball days. “.
In a June 16, 1956 article, Terrell noted that the grand opening would feature “125 laps of athletic and amateur racing, bringing some of the biggest names on the NASCAR circuit to town.” It seemed like getting the baseball park ready for the run all boiled down to the wire.
“Work continued yesterday as the speedway took its final shape,” Terrell wrote. “A concrete retaining wall has been built almost all around the land. Steel posts extend upward from the fence and will be screened with a strong wire to protect the crowd from possible injury.”
“The grandstand has been completely reworked and repainted and the high bank along the left pitch line has been carved out and the stands placed just behind the track wall and beyond the third base bleachers,” Terrell continued. . “In addition, new bleacher seats have been dug into the bank up to the left field fence.”
The park could accommodate 8,000 fans, but Lowe said that could be expanded to 10,000.
“Mountain Thunder” author Dan Pierce called the McCormick Field Circuit “the most unique track in Buncombe County history.”
“The McCormick Field track produced some exciting races, especially around home plate where the cars had to negotiate an unusually tight turn,” the author wrote. “Fans were often drawn to baseball park races by the possibility of one or more cars ending up in the shelter at first base, which is not unusual.”
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The “new” Asheville Motor Speedway opened in 1960 on Amboy Road, where races remained until the track closed after the 1999 season. It is now a city park and velodrome.
Naturally, this being Asheville, a group emerged that opposed racing at McCormick Field in the 1950s. To be fair, stock car racing is a noisy business, and the stadium is located next to a district.
In an editorial dated July 8, 1956, the Citizens’ Anti-Racing Group explained its position.
“Our group is not opposed to auto racing per se; some of our members go to the races and enjoy it,” they wrote. “However, they and the group as a whole are opposed to the races being held in our front yards or any residential area in the town of Asheville.”
They noted that many of them had lived in the area for decades and had invested substantial capital in their homes. As long as the race continues, the value of their home will continue to drop, they said.
“The peace and quiet of our neighborhood has been shattered and disrupted by the roar of engines, squeal of tires, backfire, the sound of crashes, loudspeakers, etc.,” they wrote. “Rest, relaxation and sleep are impossible.”
Luckily for the neighbors, the trail was relatively short lived, with baseball returning for the 1959 season.
Perhaps next spring, Tourists can nod to McCormick Field’s racing history by asking the announcer to read the lineups on opening day and then shout: “Gentlemen, start your engines! “
This is the opinion of John Boyle. To submit a question, contact him at 232-5847 or [email protected]