Saluting the Asheville Speedway

The bike race called the “Rumble on the River” at Asheville’s Carrier Park is picking up steam, but the track the cyclists circle has seen some real rumbles in its day. Auto racing in Asheville may seem like ancient history to some, but it was only eight years ago that the racetrack where the park now sits closed for good.

Every Friday night for decades, cars lapped the Asheville Speedway, bringing in thousands of fans and priming drivers for even bigger races. And parts of West Asheville’s economy was built around racing, with shops along Haywood Road geared to build better and faster cars.

While many newer residents may be oblivious to local racing history, for many old-timers, the memories of the track are potent, and its closing is still a bitter wound.

It is for both those reasons that a movement is underway to erect a memorial to the speedway at Carrier Park.

Jan Davis, a tire-store owner, racecar driver and Asheville City Council member, is heading up the initiative and has been hard at work rounding up local racers, some of whom have moved on to bigger tracks. An upcoming kickoff fund-raiser at the park will feature such local-racing legends as Jack Ingram, Robert Presley and Harry Gant, as well as NASCAR commentator and former basketball star Brad Daugherty. Whitewater Bluegrass will supply the music.

Racing memories lie just under the surface, emerging whenever interest arises. “It was incredible, the strong attachment that people had to that place,” says Karen Lochmiller, a librarian at the West Asheville branch who organized an oral-history project about the Speedway a few years ago. For five days, local race fans packed the library to tell their stories. “So many people had incredible stories and fond memories,” Lochmiller notes.

The kickoff is only the beginning of fundraising for the memorial, which is expected to cost $50,000, according to Davis. Highlights will include autograph and Q&A sessions with drivers, car displays and a raffle of racing memorabilia.

The Night of Thunder: Down on the River Reunion will be held at Carrier Park on Thursday, June 21, from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children, and are available at Jan Davis Tire Store (209 Patton Ave.) as well as several local community centers. For more information, call 259-5800.

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