By Amanda Dagnino
It’s the third day of September and Bobby Watson is making an unexpected run to Kinston to pick up a freezer. In his absence, workmen pass lumber back and forth, power tools whir to life and a late summer breeze whips up the flags that line the pristine track at the Carteret County Speedway. The entire facility is abuzz with activity, from the volunteer meeting in the first floor of the main building to the infield, where vendors are making their final additions to the Moonshiner’s Café. The smell of fresh cut wood permeates the air, overlaid by the acrid scents of oil and asphalt. It’s a busy time – just three days before the speedway’s first race in nearly 16 years – and while work continues, just about everyone is holding their collective breath as the absent Watson builds his American dream.
“I don’t think there is a person here that isn’t excited for Bobby,” said Adam Resnick, who, with more than 20 years in the racing industry as a driver and owner, has stepped in to help promote and oversee track operations. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen nowadays. This man has spent 14 years preparing for this opening. Fourteen years,” he said again, pausing for emphasis. “Bobby Watson was determined that he was going to have a race track, he has dreamed of having a short track here – it was going to happen. He’s one of those people that is challenged when someone says something can’t be done. That just motivated him more.”
Resnick knows the ins and outs of racing. A driver at heart, he took on the role of owner at Wake County Speedway three years ago, learning through the school of hard knocks what works and what doesn’t.
“In my first six months I lost quite a bit of money,” said Resnick. “But I worked my way through it – I figured it out. I quickly learned where my errors where and was able to turn it around and do really well. It’s a difficult business.
When Watson first gave him a call, he admits he was hesitant.
“At first I just wasn’t interested. I had that been-there-done-that-been-successful attitude,” said Resnick. “But then I got to thinking and I really didn’t want him to go through what I had experienced. Plus, the level of excitement surrounding this project was a big factor. The whole community has embraced Bobby and what he wants to accomplish. It’s contagious. You can’t help but get excited with him.”
Located at 501 Whitehouse Fork Road, just off of Hwy 58 in the small community of Peletier, the track is a virtual museum of racing memorabilia. Junior Johnson’s last moonshine still sits in the corner of the track’s full-service restaurant and the Union 76 tower from Talladega keeps watch over turn four. The names of Nascar favorites are prominent – Bobby Allison, Darrel Waltrip, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt – from the benches that dot the infield to the signs that decorate the restaurant. Nothing here has been thrown together haphazardly. Each small piece of the puzzle was carefully thought out, planned and placed, said Resnick, to ensure that the site would not only meet Watson’s expectations, but also be a draw for Carteret County for years to come.
For nearly 20 years, the site served as a World Karting Association sanctioned go-kart facility before pulling the plug in 1999. Since then, Watson has been focused on developing a world-class short track that could also serve as a venue for large-scale events, including concerts. Today, the track seats about 4,000 guests with VIP suites and concession stands along the ends of the track. A great place for concerts? Absolutely. But first, there is racing to contend with.
North Carolina has had a long love affair with all things that go fast. In the 1920s and early 30s, fast cars were ideal transport for moonshiners in the Appalachian Mountains. Despite the end of Prohibition, bootlegging continued and by the mid 1930s races among moonshiners became common. In fact, some of the former felons went on to enjoy long careers in the racing industry, including Wilkes County native Junior Johnson, one of the sports earliest bad boys.
“It’s a North Carolina tradition,” said Watson, smiling from ear to ear on the eve of Carteret County Speedway’s opening day. “And I’m excited to continue that tradition. This is a great day for me, a great day for fans and a great day for racing.”
Even when work would come to a stall, Watson said, he would head out on the road researching and “picking” racing memorabilia to bring back to the track. There were naysayers along the way, he admits. As each year passed, however, Watson’s resolve only grew stronger.
“I knew it was going to happen. When you have heart and determination you can accomplish just about anything. You have to have a dream and you have to work toward it if you want it to come to fruition – you have to want it in order to receive it.”
The response from the community and the support of his friends and family members has been paramount to achieving his goals, said Watson. In turn, he hopes the success of the track will be a draw for Carteret County.
“When these drivers and fans come to the track, they’re not just here for an evening of racing and back home – they’re here to stay the night, to eat in our restaurants, to visit our shops,” said Watson. “We have the beach, so there may be many who come and make a weekend of it. That’s big for the community.”
He encourages business owners to put up signage, offers specials to welcome the racers and embrace the new attraction.
Races are scheduled for 7pm on various Sundays on the 4/10-mile paved oval featuring late models, street stock, legends, super late models, mini-stocks and more. Tickets are $15, with discounts for youngsters and military with proper ID. For a full schedule, visit carteretspeedway.com