The Race to Save Greenville-Pickens Speedway
The historic speedway is in danger of not having racing for the first time in 65 years, but efforts are underway to salvage a season.
Greenville-Pickens Speedway has seen its share of races over the years but the race to save the speedway is perhaps the most important the historic track has ever faced.
Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Easley, South Carolina was opened in 1940 as a dirt track and was converted to asphalt in 1970. Bill France Sr. promoted races at the speedway prior to the foundation of NASCAR, and was a regular stomping ground for the Earnhardt family, with Ralph serving as track champion in 1965 and 1966. In 1971, the track was site of the very first flag-to-flag live televised NASCAR Cup Series race, which was won by Bobby Isaac.
The list of winners at Greenville-Pickens Speedway spans generations and includes the likes of Tim Flock, Buck Baker, Ned Jarrett, Lee and Richard Petty, David Pearson, Jack Ingram, Butch Lindley, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, William Byron, Josh Berry, and so many more.
However, the track is facing a scenario in which there could be no racing this season, which would be the first time in 65 years.
The track and property were listed for sale earlier this year and is currently under contract to become a 100,000-square-foot industrial park.
While the track is currently owned by Kevin Whitaker, he has agreed to lease the track to Jackie Manley if he can raise the money, secure NASCAR sanctioning, and organize a season.
The Manley family is deeply connected to Greenville-Pickens Speedway, as Jackie’s father and grandfather both worked at the track. His history runs so deep that Jackie’s first stop as a newborn child after leaving the hospital was Greenville-Pickens Speedway, as both his parents worked at the track.
“The Manleys have been a part of the Greenville-Pickens Speedway for at least six decades, working and racing at the track since the late-1960s, way back when it was dirt. They’ve always been like family to us, and we very much appreciate, endorse, and support Jackie Manley’s attempt to salvage a 2023 racing season, and maybe even help save the racetrack in the long run. Losing the track would be like losing a part of our family,” said Mark Blackwell, whose father Tom owned Greenville-Pickens Speedway from the 1950s until 2010.
A group of supporters are rallying to try and save the historic speedway and salvage a 2023 race season as well. A Facebook group called, “Save Our Speedway: The Legendary Greenville-Pickens Speedway,” was created, as well as a GoFundMe donation page led by Jackie’s mother, Debby.
“It’s all a big family deal,” said Manley. “The Blackwells, they owned the track. My family goes all the way back to the 60s, so they were always there as the track maintenance crew with the wreckers and all that stuff until the time the Blackwells sold the track. Now that we’re trying to lease it and get it back, it’s back to the Blackwells with Mark and Manleys with me, so history is kind of repeating.”
The community has raised over $7,000 toward the goal of $103,000, but Manley told Racing America he has secured more funding through sponsorship and support from the racing community. He needs the $100,000 to cover the track lease from Whitaker, and is confident he has all of the other expenses (such as purse money, NASCAR sanctioning fees, insurance, etc.) covered through his efforts.
We’ve got all of it covered, except the $100,000 for the lease (of the track). We’re doing really well, it’s just our time frame is hurting us.”
One of Whitaker’s stipulations when agreeing to rent the track to Manley was that it had to remain a NASCAR-sanctioned track. There are a number of things that go into acquiring that NASCAR sanction, one of those being the number of events held during a season. Manley’s goal is to begin racing by the first of next month and run through September.
Manley said NASCAR is “100 percent backing” his efforts and are working with him on the schedule to meet those requirements, including things such as twin races or special events.
“They’re really helping us out a lot,” Manley said of NASCAR. “Greenville-Pickens is the second oldest NASCAR track, so they’re really standing with us.”
One of those helping Manley’s efforts is former track champion Robert Pressley.
“He’s given us a lot of ideas and is helping any way he can, which is really helpful,” Manley said. “We’ve talked to a lot of the local late model guys that run the CARS Tour or South Boston and they’ve said, ‘Once you get open, we’ll be there to race.’”
While he plans to release his participant list in the coming weeks, he has around 90 cars across the track’s six divisions ready to race if he can secure the funding for the lease. He hopes to rekindle the days of when Greenville-Pickens was a regular stop for drivers hoping to make their way to NASCAR one day.
“Even if you think about NASCAR, all the big-time guys have been there,” said Manley. “That was where you went if you wanted to go to NASCAR or go to the Cup Series, you started at Greenville-Pickens and that was your first goal.”
If the track is unable to raise the funds necessary to have a 2023 season, all money raised through the GoFundMe page will be donated to the Shriners Hospital for Children. If a season does take place the track will host its traditional Shriners Race, which was a popular charity event for many years at the speedway.
“As we’re going through this and raising the money for this effort, there were some people that didn’t really trust it or were unsure of donating,” Manley said. “We decided we would give it to the Shriners and it’s a win-win for everybody. If we make it happen, it’s a win for the racetrack. If it doesn’t happen, it’s a win for the Shriners and the kids.”
While Manley and his support system remains optimistic they can organize a season and secure the funding in time, he understands the risks are there and no racing at the speedway is a realistic and “devastating” possibility.
It would be devastating to the local community, it would be devastating to the NASCAR community.”
“It draws people to motels and when people come from out of town they have to eat, go to the gas station, so it would hurt the businesses locally to lose that out-of-state revenue coming in.”
For more information about the efforts to save Greenville-Pickens Speedway, be sure to visit the group’s Facebook Page and GoFundMe effort.