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A sinkhole discovered under the concrete grandstands at North Wilkesboro Speedway was rumored to have been a moonshine cave. (SMI photo)

WALTZ: Old-School PR At North Wilkesboro

HARRISBURG, N.C. — In this era of instant news and social media, Scott Cooper and his communications team at Speedway Motorsports used old-school PR to turn a sinkhole into ticket sales for the May 19 NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Was the large cavity discovered under the track’s main grandstand a sinkhole, or was it confirmation of an urban legend concerning a long-lost moonshine cave?

A track press release only speculated, but media members from across the country pounced on the moonshine aspect and ran with it.

“Once our operations guys found the initial hole, we knocked it open to find there was an even bigger hole, approximately 700 square feet, a huge cavity,” said Steve Swift, senior vice president of operations and development for Speedway Motorsports, which owns the historic race track. “You could park a Chevrolet pickup truck in the hole, and it was right under the turn one grandstands.”

To no one’s surprise, a second press release reported that an engineering analysis of the area proved inconclusive.

“It’s hard to say if the folklore and old stories that you constantly hear around here are true, but we are in the heart of what was once moonshining country, so who knows?” Swift added. “We didn’t want to dig too deep into the cave; we unfortunately didn’t have time to be an archeologist.

“There’s things under there you would see that makes no sense why they are there. We saw some things that were kind of weird, columns and an interior wall and it made us think of some of the stories we have heard in the past, there could be something to this hole. It’s still plausible; and maybe ‘MythBusters’ can come out and investigate it one day.”

As far as we know, filling the cavity with concrete and putting the seats back in place in time for the All-Star Race was unexpected, expensive and time consuming. So this was no PR stunt.

Instead, it was a lesson for today’s generation of racing PR reps on how to produce publicity by turning lemons into lemonade.

■ May 24 will mark 50 years since A.J. Foyt showed up at the Indy Mile on Friday night prior to the Indianapolis 500 and dusted a new generation of USAC racers, winning both 50-lap features in what turned out to be the finale of Foyt’s USAC sprint car career.

“I wanted to see if I could keep up with these kids, but they’re tough,” the 39-year-old Foyt said in the May 29, 1974, issue of SPEED SPORT. “I wanted to get some of the tension off before Sunday.”

Of course, SPEED SPORT’s Chris Economaki was at the Indiana State Fairgrounds that night and here’s what he wrote for his Editor’s Notebook: “Don Smith’s USAC sprint car show at the Indiana State Fair one-mile dirt track Friday produced some of the best racing we’ve seen in recent seasons. A.J.’s entry hyped the crowd to where it almost filled the big stand. We heard his ‘deal’ was anywhere between $2,000 and $4,000 but whatever it was, it was worth it as he won both ends. The ‘kiddies’ who have been running the sprint circuit were really given a driving lesson. A.J. put a Firestone on the right rear of his normally all-Goodyear sprinter for the opening 50 and then went to Goodyear front, Firestone rear for the second stanza, setting the pit lane agog … There were seven 500 starters in the arc-light goings-on, A.J., Pancho Carter, Johnny Parsons, George Snider, Tom Bigelow, Jan Opperman and Larry Cannon.”

An estimated 9,000 fans saw Foyt beat Carter and Snider in the first 50-lap feature, while Greg Weld and Bruce Walkup followed him under the checkered flag in the nightcap, as both features ended under caution.

Two days later, Foyt started from the pole in the 58th running of the Indianapolis 500. He led five times for 70 laps before a failed oil fitting left him 15th in the final rundown.

The Steve Stapp-built sprint car “Super Tex” drove to those historic victories 50 years ago represents what many consider to be the Golden Era of USAC sprint car racing.

Race fans in the Indianapolis area between now and the end of May should stop by USAC headquarters in Speedway for an up-close look at this piece of motorsports history. The doors are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Use the main entrance and we’re told Foyt’s No. 11 car is on display in the dining area to the left.


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