Out of the Groove Explores The Moonshine & Motorsports Trail
WHAT IS THE MOONSHINE & MOTORSPORTS TRAIL?
Eric Estepp, host of the NASCAR-themed YouTube channel Out of the Groove, was commissioned by the North Carolina Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources to travel the Moonshine & Motorsports Trail.
The trail highlights North Carolina’s state history and the cultural impact on increased development across the state.
Estepp’s five-day journey was chronicled in a multi-part video series that features a fascinating and behind-the-scenes look at what makes North Carolina a mecca for motorsports fans.
To learn more about the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail, please visit here.
Eric Estepp reached the final stop on the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail, Rockingham Speedway. A track with deep ties to both NASCAR and North Carolina racing history. Is there a place for Rockingham Speedway in NASCAR, and what is the track up to now?
Eric goes into depth on the past of Rockingham Speedway, a former staple of the NASCAR schedule. He mentioned a poll in which members of the NASCAR community talked about Rockingham Speedway. Some such as Terry Labonte was optimistic and hopeful about NASCAR returning, while others such as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were more pessimistic.
Regardless, it does not dismiss the history of Rockingham Speedway as Eric points out. The race track was a staple of the NASCAR schedule from the track’s inception in 1965 until 2004, when the track ran its’ final race.
Save for the Craftsman Truck Series returning briefly in 2012 and 2013 as Eric points out, the race track has been devoid of racing. It was foreclosed in 2015, but it is now under new ownership. Sparking some optimism for the track’s future.
Track owner Dan Lovenheim gave Eric the opportunity to walk and drive around the iconic race track. Eric got a firsthand look at some of the upgrades the race track received thanks to the $9 million from the State of North Carolina. This included a repaved racing surface and brand new safer barriers in the corners.
Eric was then given the unique opportunity to drive around the iconic race track. He did it under the guise of “helping to age” the repaved racing surface.
In order to do that, Eric took every lane the race track offered. From down low around the apron to up high around the wall, Eric tried to run over every inch of asphalt. He even made a stop on pit road to finish off the day.
The race track appears to be in very good condition given what was there. Eric even mentioned how the track is looking to add lights at some points soon, and that the track is also going to host events such as music festivals. This opens up the conversation about what the future goals of the track are.
From there, Eric goes into depth about some of the goals of the track. The track is now being branded as more than just a race track. Rather, it is also being branded as an “Entertainment Complex”.
There are races being planned at the “Little Rock” short track right beside the big Rockingham Speedway race track. Eric even mentioned that Rockingham had conversations with NASCAR about a return at some point. When Eric pressed further for an answer about how recently those conversations, the response was, “We are working on a lot of stuff”.
Many people have wondered about the potential for Rockingham to work its’ way back onto the NASCAR schedule. Eric goes into depth on what he feels about the future of the race track.
Eric loved what he saw at the track, and he talked about how there is still local pride in the track. However, he did mention the one big obstacle that Rockingham has in its’ way, oversaturation. Eric’s estimation is that there are around 13 races within five hours of Rockingham Speedway.
More specifically, he looked at tracks such as Charlotte, North Wilkesboro, and Martinsville. Each of which are at or around two hours away from Rockingham Speedway.
As for where would it go on the schedule, Eric also mentions that due to the track being independently owned, there is really no place on the schedule for Rockingham. Only two race tracks on the schedule are independently owned being Pocono and Indianapolis, but they are probably not racing there anytime soon. Eric says that maybe if they moved the second race of the year from Auto Club Speedway to Rockingham is a potential option, albeit not ideal.
Is there a place for Rockingham on the NASCAR schedule? Eric is not sure, but he establishes that there would be nothing like it if it did return.
Eric Estepp moves right along the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail to a place that was once seemingly forgotten, North Wilkesboro Speedway. Eric made the trek to Wilkes County for the All-Star Race last weekend, highlighting the return of NASCAR to the hills of Wilkes County.
Pre-Race Fan-zone Activities.
Eric highlighted the hopping fan-zone during prerace which included the usual merchandise haulers, show cars, and even a concert featuring country music star Dierks Bentley. However, North Wilkesboro Speedway featured a bit of a retro feel to it.
This is primarily an homage to North Wilkesboro’s place in NASCAR’s past. Eric mentions that the speedway, a part of the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail, was founded in 1947 and hosted NASCAR races from 1949 until 1996.
The Winston Cup Museum had a display at North Wilkesboro. This featured classic Winston Cup merchandise and classic Winston Cup cars.
The Winston Cup Museum also had a mobile display that featured different pieces of NASCAR history. Terry Labonte’s Winston Cup was on display, as well as different Alan Kulwicki relics and a Jeff Gordon helmet. The biggest display, however, belonged to the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt.
Also during pre-race, Eric participated in a meet-up at Brennan Poole’s Moonshine and Motorsports Trail show car. Poole’s show car was on display along with Eric meeting plenty of fans, then Eric moved into the race track.
Inside the Race Track
Speedway Motorsports Inc. had called the renovations at North Wilkesboro Speedway a “resto-mod”. Highlighting that there were necessary improvements made to the track, they still looked to keep the timeless image of North Wilkesboro.
Greeting fans on the way in was the iconic Winston Cup sign behind the suites in turn four. Eric mentioned how when people saw North Wilkesboro in its’ abandoned state, this was something that they saw. He mentioned how it highlights the fact that this is a piece of the past being brought back for the modern day.
When getting into the track, Eric explored the renovated North Wilkesboro Speedway. This included a pre-race parade featuring cars that were famously used in moonshine and classic NASCAR cars as well.
While at the track between the Open and the All-Star Race, Eric talked about the job that SMI did at improving North Wilkesboro Speedway. He mentioned that, while there are definitely some thing about the facility that are a bit dated, the job done was impressive. Eric specifically called it a, “Bang-up Job.”
From there, Eric sat down to enjoy the All-Star Race. One of the most anticipated NASCAR moments in recent memory.
North Wilkesboro Speedway is now more than just a relic on the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail. It is a track that is alive and well, and it seems like there is a place in the motorsports landscape for North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Eric Estepp continued his trek along the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail by stopping by two historic North Carolina sites. The first site being one of NASCAR’s original tracks, Occoneechee Speedway. The second site being Stone Mountain State Park, where moonshine was manufactured during the early days of NASCAR.
Occoneechee Speedway is a place where it seems that time stands still. Relics dot the place including the flagstand, the grandstands, old concession stands complete with old school Pepsi logos, and old cars as well.
The track that hosted NASCAR from 1948 up until 1968 now exists as a nature trail. The trail follows the original track layout meaning the footprint of the track is still there to this day. Eric walked along that very trail, and describes the shape of the track as a Martinsville type shape.
Eric mentions that the track was once a horse racing track before Bill France saw it from a plane. France would go on to buy the land, expand the track, and it stayed on the schedule for many years. It was taken off in 1968 for Talladega Superspeedway according to Eric.
Another challenge for the track that Eric mentioned was its’ proximity to other race tracks such as Charlotte, North Wilkesboro, and Martinsville. Those tracks also offered higher purses than Occoneechee could have. However, its’ preservation makes certain that the track will forever keep its’ place in the history of North Carolina.
Stone Mountain State Park
From the race track in Occoneechee, Eric moves to the moonshine trails of Stone Mountain State Park. Driving into the park, Eric made his way down some windy roads that were used oftentimes to transport moonshine. He even makes mention that cars were specifically modified to better navigate some of these roads to outrun the “revenuers”.
Eric walked down the nature trail to the falls at the park. While walking through these hills, it is easy to see why moonshining was so popular. Still could easily be hidden in these hills as they were camouflaged by the trees, and, as Eric mentions, almost 200 stills have been found in the hills.
Eric drives towards the Wilkes County side of the park. The county that was the home of one of North Carolina’s most famous moonshiners Junior Johnson and North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Eric called the roads he walked on, “A very important stretch of road to the beginnings of NASCAR.” The moonshine run through the roads to make money and put food on the table for families.
Eric even offers insight into some of the tricks drivers would pull. These included oil slicks and tossing sharp metal pieces to blow out tires. Either way, these roads are vital to the history of Moonshine and Motorsports.
From here, Eric will take on the next step of the trail. That being the North Wilkesboro Speedway in Wilkes County. The site of the NASCAR All Star Race.
Eric Estepp continues his trek along the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail. He starts off with a trip to the North Carolina State Capital in Raleigh to look at the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. After that, he makes his way to Level Cross for a VIP tour of the Petty Museum.
North Carolina Museum of History
Of course, there has to be some motorsports history the first time Eric walks into the museum. A Dale Earnhardt showcar from 2000 welcomes visitors.
From there Eric discusses more about the history of the State of North Carolina. This ranges from the state’s famous nickname “tar heels”, which Eric states comes from North Carolina’s history as the world’s leader in producing tar and related products.
Eric also gives a look at a replica of the first airplane flown by the Wright Brothers before looking at a late version of the Model T. Appropriate considering the history of moonshining in the state during the Great Depression. Eric mentions the importance of the fact that moonshining was done in a lot of instances to simply make money to provide for families during these lean times.
North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame
Many recognizable sports faces greet Eric as he enters the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. Towards the back is the motorsports section of inductees which include faces like Richard and Lee Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Childress, Humpy Wheeler, and others.
Many other motorsports relics from trophies to firesuits to cars are on display as well. Eric stops along the way to talk to Secretary Reid Wilson of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Wilson explains the idea behind the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail.
He notes that it was the idea of Governor Roy Cooper, who put $1 million into the budget for this trail. He went on to say that they have come up with the “first” eight sites on the trail. He does not explicitly say more sites could be added.
After a quick pit stop for some North Carolina Barbecue, Eric makes his way to Level Cross to the Petty Museum. Eric’s friend Rowland invited Eric to the museum, but the one giving the tour was none other than race car driver and Richard Petty’s grandson Thad Moffitt.
To say there is a ton of Petty relics and collectibles would be an understtement. Cars, trophies, family heirlooms, and even relics from a race team long gone. There is even an entire room dedicated to Petty’s gun collection, of which, Moffitt mentions that Petty got the 43rd of any gun that there was more than 43 made of as a tribute to the iconic 43 car.
One of the cool cars in the museum is a recreation of the Lee Petty 42 car he used to win the first Daytona 500 in 1959. The real car, as Moffitt says, just does not exist anymore.
Richard’s winningest car from the 1966 and 1967 season is also on display. This car, as Moffitt says, is responsible for 36 wins. It was once a 1966 car, but a new nose was put on it in 1967.
The museum is also home to one of the most unique trophies in NASCAR history. As Moffitt says, Richard was tired of getting the same trophy, so NASCAR gave him a jukebox. The kicker is that the suit Richard wore when he accepted the trophy still fits him to this day.
From there, they walked into another part of the museum, which used to be a race shop back when the company was still Petty Enterprises. From there, it is more cars and more trophies, and even the former pit crew physical fitness center. Which was left untouched after the team moved shops in 2008.
Eric then walks over to the Reaper Shed, which was the original race shop for the Petty racing team back when Lee Petty was the only driver for the team. Everything, as Moffitt says, is as it was when the shop was operational.
To finish it off, it is a look at Richard’s first race car. A convertible from 1959.
That was part two of the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail. Eric will continue his trip along the trail through other landmarks in the State of North Carolina. If you want to see the first parts of the Moonshine and Motorsports trail, find them here.
The brand new Moonshine and Motorsports Trail will be featured as the primary sponsor on the JD Motorsports number 6 car driven by Brennan Poole at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27th. This is on Memorial Day weekend, the day before the Coca Cola 600.
There will also be a showcar on display featuring this scheme this weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Youtuber Eric Estepp will be at a meetup by this car scheduled for 3 PM ET on Sunday May 21st.
The Moonshine and Motorsports Trail highlights the history of some of North Carolina’s biggest industries: stock car racing and moonshining. Current stops on the trail include Occoneechee Speedway, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Rockingham Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Museum of the Albemarle, Stone Mountain State Park, the North Carolina Museum of History, and, of course, Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Eric Estepp has been featuring the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail on his YouTube Channel. He started the trail at the NASCAR Hall of Fame while also paying a visit to RFK Racing.
From there, Eric blazed a bit of his own trail. He would spend a day at the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville. Not an official stop on the trail, but still a worthwhile stop for fans of North Carolina Auto Racing history.
From there, Eric went to the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, which also houses the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. He also stopped by to see North Carolina Racing royalty at the Petty Museum in Level Cross.
Eric will be highlighting more of the Moonshine and Motorsports trail in more videos throughout the month of May. For more information on the Moonshine and Motorsports trail, visit the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources website.
What is the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame?
After stopping at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to start the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail, Eric takes a detour to Mooresville, North Carolina to what he calls a “Hidden Gem.” That hidden gem is the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
According to their website, this museum has been around since 1994. The museum houses more than 40 cars from different disciplines of auto racing. Inductees are a who’s-who of auto racing legends including Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, and more.
Inside of the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame is nothing short of a spectacular collection. Cars from the early days of NASCAR up until the new millennium, plus little trinkets that make any NASCAR or auto racing fan’s eyes pop.
Eric starts the tour with a look at a 1940s Ford Coupe. A peek into the history of where NASCAR came from. Moonshiners tricking whatever car they had to make it go fast.
From there, it’s views of classic stock cars from all different era and even some different disciplines of motorsports. One car that a few may recognize is The Fabulous Hudson Hornet driven by NASCAR’s first two time champion, Herb Thomas.
Not only were there cars at the museum, but there were also pieces of memorabilia including diecasts and firesuits. A piece Eric found particularly intriguing was a Rusty Wallace scale model used for aerodynamic testing in the 1990s.
In addition to the older pieces in the museum, there were also pieces that were more modern. The one Eric took the most time looking at was a Tony Stewart Joe Gibbs Racing 20 car.
Stewart made that 20 car famous during his first 10 Cup Series seasons winning two championships in 2002 and 2005. He also won a rookie record three races in his rookie season of 1999.
Not a planned pit stop on Eric’s Moonshine and Motorsports Trail, the North Carolina Motorsports Hall of Fame seems to have something for everyone. Eric will continue his tour through North Carolina to visit more historical sites on the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail.