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Did Legion Stadium ever host automobile races?

Steve McDaniel

Legion Stadium has been the hub of Wilmington’s sports scene since its construction in the mid 1930s. Automobile racing was part of that scene from the facility’s beginning.

Newspaper clippings from October 1937 and 1938 advertise “AAA-Sanctioned races” at the “American Legion track of the Coastal Fair grounds,” the name Legion Stadium went by before completion of the athletic fields a few years later.

Automobile exhibitions were frequent as well. Several ads from the 1940s promise “action, thrills, speed, crashes!” with the Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers. The Hell Drivers, with what was described as a “daredevil leap,” were also a popular attraction in the ’40s.

Motorcycle exhibitions were held at Legion during the ’40s, and a 1948 newspaper article describes a request to the New Hanover County commissioners to open the stadium to motorcycle races that summer.

Records from the 1950s and ’60s are sketchy, as no public clip files exist from those decades. Local racing legend Hoss Ellington, a member of the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame who moved to the Port City in 1961, said he recalls car races at Legion in the ’60s, but he did his racing around a dirt track that was located near Snow’s Cut just north of Carolina Beach.

Another local sports historian, Tommy Walton, remembers motorcycle races at Legion in the ’50s and ’60s, but didn’t recall any auto races.

A most unlikely source revealed not everyone in Wilmington was thrilled with auto racing at the stadium. Billboard, the national amusement industry publication based in Chicago, has a small article in its June 26, 1954 issue about the Wilmington city council allowing Sunday afternoon racing despite the protests of residents who lived near the track.

The race track at Legion disappeared in the early 1970s as the once-thriving horse racing facilities there were dismantled and the focus of the complex turned to football and baseball.

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5 Responses to “ Did Legion Stadium ever host automobile races?”

  1. On February 14, 2010 at 10:25 am BUDDY LANGLEY wrote:


  2. On February 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm David W. Lewis, Jr. wrote:

    I grew up in adjacent Sunset Park and remember “hot rod” racing at Legion Stadium in the late 40s and early 50s. There were, of course, the Hell’s Drivers. Most of the racers were local young men. Horses were still kept in stables near the track at that time.

  3. On July 28, 2010 at 9:44 pm Donald Godwin wrote:

    I think during the summer of 1954, NASCAR races promoted by Frank Maner were held on Sunday afternoons at Legion Stadium. Some of the local drivers were Walter Wood, Rocky Rutan, Davis Raper, and Darrell Ottaway from Holly Ridge. Some of the drivers who raced here and went on to bigger things were Billy Myers, Wendell Scott, the Wood Brothers, Ralph Earnhardt, Dink Widenhouse, Speedy Thompson and Shorty York. The class of racing was Sportsman. I also remember a couple of motorcycle races during this time period when Little Joe Weatherly was a participant. The racing was stopped because the City/County wanted to cater to the trotters that were stabled at the stable and the horses required a different type of track than the cars , so they stopped the car racing.

  4. On July 29, 2010 at 4:11 pm Robert Jordan wrote:

    Auto racing was very popular at Legion Stadium during my childhood. My cousins and I would go to the races on Sunday afternoons. The track was 3/8 mile track. We also watched the horses train and practice there. On a wall of the stalls was pictures of famous trotters and pacers that trained there. Among them was a horse named Army. Also, I played American Legion baseball at Legion Stadium in the early 60’s. The track was still there and we ran laps during practice. That was a LONG, LONG way around. Lots of great memories!!!

  5. On December 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm Stanley Outlaw wrote:

    My father took me to sportsman class car races there in the 50’s. Pete Peterson was one of the main stays. He had a garage on Live Oak Ave (now Covil Ave.) where he worked on cars for a living. I would play in the race cars he stored behind the Garage. That building is still there. The track was still there when I trained at the old fire tower across from the stadium in the 1970s.

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