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Curator's Corner / NASCAR 75th Anniversary

Rockingham’s First and Last Victories

Hall of Famers Curtis Turner and Matt Kenseth delivered thrilling wins to bookend Cup Series action at “The Rock.”

Firsts in NASCAR are huge – first wins for a young driver, first victory for a start-up team, first championship, first to win at a new track. All of those milestones are important and are rightfully celebrated as iconic career moments.

Here at the NASCAR Hall of Fame we have many artifacts that celebrate firsts, including the trophy from the first NASCAR points race from February 15, 1948 on the old Daytona Beach-Road Course, to the trophy from the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959.

The Whelen Hall of Champions in the NASCAR Hall of Fame houses the first championship trophies handed out in five different NASCAR series – Modified Division (now Whelen Modified Tour), 1948; Strictly Stock Division (now Cup Series), 1949; Late Model Sportsman Division, 1950; Budweiser Late Model Series (now Xfinity Series), 1982; and the NASCAR SuperTruck Series by Craftsman (now NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series), 1995.

As you can tell, firsts are a big deal here.

Sometimes, so are lasts, which can have important historical significance of their own.

That’s why we recognize and celebrate both notable firsts and lasts at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Which brings us to this week’s subject, North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, about 90 minutes southeast of Charlotte.

J. Elzie Webb, an investor in North Carolina Motor Speedway, helped to promote the first race at the track in 1965. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

The inaugural Cup Series race at the one-mile Rockingham oval was called the American 500 and it took place on Halloween of 1965. It was won by Hall of Famer Curtis “Pops” Turner in a Ford owned by Glen Wood (Class of 2012) and prepared by Glen’s brother and fellow Hall of Famer Leonard Wood (Class of 2013).

Curtis Turner drove his Wood Brothers Racing Ford to victory in the 1965 American 500 at Rockingham. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

The victory was the 17th and final Cup series triumph for Turner, who had been banned from NASCAR by Chairman and founder William H.G. France (Class of 2010) for trying to unionize drivers in the early 1960s. Turner didn’t race in NASCAR at all from 1962-64, returning in ’65 once France lifted his ban. The Rockingham victory was Turner’s first since 1959, when he won on the half-mile Concord Speedway, not far from where Charlotte Motor Speedway sits today.

This stock certificate was donated by Jo DeWitt Wilson, the daughter of former track President and NASCAR team owner L.G. DeWitt.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame has a unique artifact to celebrate that first race at “The Rock” in the form of an actual stock certificate issued to Richard Howard for investing in the North Carolina track. Per the stock certificate, Howard, who served in several executive capacities at Charlotte Motor Speedway from 1964-76, purchased 33,244 shares in North Carolina Motor Speedway Inc.

L.G. DeWitt was track president at Rockingham for more than 20 years, as well as the championship car owner when Benny Parsons won the Cup Series title in 1973. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

The last Cup Series race at the track, which by then was on its second name change, this time to simply North Carolina Speedway, came on February 22, 2004, when Hall of Famer Matt Kenseth (Class of 2023) beat Kasey Kahne to the checkered flag by a mere 0.010 seconds. Kenseth’s race-winning Ford Taurus, which was owned by Jack Roush (Class of 2019), is on display in our “Greatest Finishes” exhibit in Heritage Speedway on the top floor of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The Ford Taurus that Matt Kenseth drove to victory in the final race at Rockingham is on exhibit at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Video courtesy of NASCAR.

Kenseth also drove this car twice at Rockingham in 2003, finishing third in the Subway 400 on February 26th, and fourth in the Pop-Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 on November 9th. The fall race was the penultimate event of the 2003 NASCAR season. Kenseth’s fourth-place finish clinched the Cup Series championship for he and team owner Jack Roush.

Matt Kenseth’s 2003 NASCAR championship was the first for team owner Jack Roush. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

That specific car then is doubly historic, having won a championship in 2003 and the final race at Rockingham in 2004. Interestingly, it was never raced at any other track, retiring after one victory and three top-five finishes, all at “The Rock.”

The Rockingham stock certificate and the Kenseth car are but two of hundreds of artifacts on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. When you plan your visit, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time; there’s a lot to see and do.

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Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.

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