‘Lost Speedways’ – A walk through racing’s past
Any fan of racing history, or even history in general, will find themselves embracing “Lost Speedways.”
Premiering Wednesday, July 15, with the launch of the NBC Universal-owned streaming service Peacock, the eight-episode series follows hosts Dale Earnhardt Jr., a former NASCAR driver, and Matthew Dillner, a racing videographer, as they travel to the sites of abandoned, repurposed or completely razed racetracks to see what it looks like today and hear stories from those who raced there.
And it’s the stories that really make this series go. In visiting venues such as Metrolina Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., Middle Georgia Raceway and Hinchliffe Stadium in Passaic, N.J., we hear the stories behind the stories from the likes of racing legends Richard Petty, Jack Ingram, Robert Presley and Ken Ragan and learn nuggets that any racing aficionado would savor. Through them, the ghosts of these venues come to life.
It’s a passion project for Earnhardt, an avid fan and mapper of ghost tracks, and what he and Dillner heard got all concerned with the series excited. Several involved Earnhardt’s family.
“For instance …,” notes Mike Davie, an executive producer of the series, “we never knew that Ralph Earnhardt (Dale Jr.’s grandfather) would show up to a racetrack and literally not work on his car. He would make it a point to sit up on his hood, he would smoke a cigarette and just watch everybody else work on their car. I mean, just playing mental games with the competition. And that’s kind of like he had them beat before they even started the race that way. But he would not work on his car at a racetrack, which I’ve never heard of anybody doing that. … The psychological effects of that are fascinating to me.”
The state of these venues vary wildly. Some, like Metrolina (which was demolished shortly after filming) and Middle Georgia, are overgrown with trees and brush engulfing the track and ruins of concrete stands while others have been repurposed into something else and still others are gone completely.
But seeing these raceways offers a snapshot of what the sport looked like back in that time. Looking at them even in their current state, it’s not hard to imagine the roar of cars and the cheering of crowds. To Davie, this is catnip for anyone who loves history and good stories.
“I don’t think you have to be a racing fan to appreciate what we’re coming to market with …,” he says. “My goodness, if you are somebody that just goes to an airport and likes to people watch, this is your show, and it’s not about airports or airplanes or people watching. It’s just the characters that come up.”