For much more on the 1941 race, see the blog post by our patron Robert Mitchell here…for even more on racing at Bowman Gray and Peace Haven Speedway and local drive-in theaters search for his posts on Flickr using the username vibraswirl
Since our all-time most popular post is a brief history of local NASCAR racing that I did about five years ago, it is entirely fitting that we kick off 2015 with another racing post. My friend, the famous wine maker Bruce Younts up in Walnut Cove, posted an announcement about the May 11, 1941 100 mile race at High Point Speedway to my Facebook timeline today. Here is what it inspired.
The High Point Speedway was a one mile dirt oval billed as the fastest stock car track in the nation. It was completed in 1940. The only race that year featured open wheel Indy type cars. The first stock car race was run on Sunday, May 11, 1941. Before the race, officials dumped several hundred pounds of calcium chloride on the surface, which was meant to give the cars better grip and also to hold down dust.
The entry list comprised a who’s who of eastern US drivers. In those days, with the moonshine mountains of Dawson County just up the road, Atlanta was the center of the stock car racing universe, so sent its best racers, Lloyd Seay, Sam Knox, Harley Taylor and Roy Hall. Bill France brought his 1941 Graham Paige from Daytona Beach. Fred Dagavar came from New York city, “Wild Bill” Snowden from St. Augustine, Gene Comstock from Chesapeake, Ohio, “Pop” Harris from Malden, Mass, Jap Brogden from Chamblee, Georgia and Henry Kolba, Jr. from Cicero, Illinois. Perhaps the most interesting was a two car entry from Staten Island…Irving Figge and Carmelo Serio driving 1941 Willys Americans.
Local entries included “Buck” Baity, from Yadkinville (1941 Buick convertible coupe), Bill Blair from High Point (1941 Mercury coupe), Dobe Powell from North Wilkesboro (1939 Ford coupe) and Hugh “Curly” Lunsford from Winston-Salem (1941 Mercury coach).
In one of the early heats, Eldridge Tadlock’s (Norfolk) 1940 Ford coupe rolled six or seven times. He was thrown out and the car landed on top of him. He died on the way to the hospital. The main race was relatively uneventful, with one of the Atlanta boys, Harley Taylor, leading from flag to flag in his 1939 Ford coupe. He averaged 80 miles per hour. But the crowd of 6,000 was entertained by the ferocious dual for second place between France and the Twin City’s Curly Lunsford. It was nip and tuck for most of the 100 miles until France suffered a fender bender and Lunsford shot past to grab the runner up spot.
Winston-Salem driver “Curly” Lunsford has a drink after his second place finish in the May 11, 1941 100 mile race in High Point. Got to love his racing suit…apparently he came straight from church to the speedway. Lunsford would go on to drive in many races at local tracks, including Bowman Gray Stadium and Peace Haven Speedway.
There were only two more races at High Point Speedway. When the US entered World War II in December, all racing was banned. Unwilling to keep the track up for the duration, the owners sold the facility. The new owner tore down the grandstand and sold it for lumber. It is now the site of a housing development.
Bill France had a few fender benders over the years. His Graham Paige was known as “the poor man’s Cord”.
Bill Blair was the son of John Blair, a state legislator and owner of Clover Hill Farms dairy in northern Guilford County. He grew up delivering milk, but had a second line of work delivering “cough medicine”, for which he once spent a Christmas Eve in the Martinsville, Virginia jail. He watched the High Point Speedway being built across the road from his father’s dairy and entered his 1941 Mercury coupe in the first race. He was one of the original NASCAR drivers and led the first NASCAR Strictly Stock race at Charlotte in 1949 for 144 laps before succumbing to a bad pit stop. He also ran in the first NASCAR races at Bowman Gray Stadium, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro and the initial Southern 500. After his retirement in 1956, he was always Bill France’s personal guest at the Daytona 500.
“Lightning” Lloyd Seay, a hot shot from Atlanta, won the last race at High Point Speedway on August 31, 1941. It was his second straight victory, coming on the heels of a win at Daytona the week before. Less than 24 hours later, he won the Labor Day race at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta. For reasons unknown, he had changed his car number for the Lakewood race from 7 to 13. The next morning, his cousin Woodrow Anderson woke him up, demanding payment for a load of sugar used in their moonshine business. An argument ensued and Anderson shot Seay in the heart, ending his racing career and his life at age 21. During Anderson’s murder trial, he claimed self defense and stated that he had perfect memory. The prosecutor decided to test him. He recited the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, then asked Anderson to repeat it. “I didn’t see Mary had a little lamb,” Anderson growled. “I seen what happened to Lloyd.” He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Barely five weeks before he was shot to death, Lightning Lloyd Seay flipped his number 7 car twice right in front of the grandstand, yet managed to finish fourth in the race.