Retired NASCAR driver Rex White once told a story at Appalachian State University of removing his pick-up truck’s transmission and using it in his stock car for a race, and then taking it out to drive his truck back home. This was in the 1950s, before NASCAR became one of the nation’s largest spectator sports with pit crews, celebrity drivers and high-stake winnings.
Stories from stock car racing’s early days are among the artifacts documented in Appalachian’s Stock Car Racing Collection in Belk Library and Information Commons.
Fans, scholars and journalists from across the country utilize the collection, which contains 1,600 books, 300 videos and DVDs, 160 serial titles, as well as photographs, race programs, press kits, and a clippings file covering more than 1,500 topics. It is considered the primary public source for archived materials related to the sport. Interest is widespread, with the staff receiving inquiries from France, Australia and the BBC.
“The collection is all about comprehensiveness and making our resources accessible to the public,” said librarian Suzanne Wise, the collection’s curator.
Appalachian was among the first institutions of higher education to recognize the growing impact of auto racing on America when it began offering a course on the history of stock car racing in 1998. Wise helped develop resources for the course and realized few libraries had information for researchers.
“Most academic libraries thought it was too ephemeral a topic for comprehensive purposes. We saw this as a niche area Appalachian could fill, and it was appropriate because of our location,” Wise said.
After receiving key donations – including boxes of Richard Petty’s media coverage and fan correspondence as his wife, Lynda, cleaned out their North Carolina home – Appalachian opened a stock car racing collection in 2000.
“We live so close to the founders of what’s become a major national sport, that’s its natural for us to be at the center of documenting its history and culture and what it has meant to this region,” said Appalachian’s Dean of Libraries Mary Reichel.
Stock car racing got its start in Southern Appalachia, with moonshiners transporting illegal goods at insane speeds along mountains roads. It evolved into weekend races to see who drove the fastest car. Competition became formally organized in 1947 with the founding of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
“As the sport’s national popularity and economic impact grow, so does the need for a comprehensive repository,” Wise said. In addition to the Petty materials, items in Appalachian’s Stock Car Racing Collection include:
The collection has hosted visits by 1960 NASCAR champion Rex White; TV commentator Jimmy Spencer; Edgar Otto, the son of NASCAR pioneer Ed Otto and author of “Ed Otto: NASCAR's Silent Partner” (Coastal 181, 2008); and historian Dr. Daniel S. Pierce, author of “Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France”(UNC Press, 2010).
Wise has conducted her own scholarly work, including research on 1940s and 1950s driver Louise Smith, the first woman to be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Brought in by NASCAR’s Bill France to draw more spectators at his races, Smith won 38 competitions during a 10-year period and was known for her frequent and spectacular crashes. Wise’s article on Smith was recently published in the book “South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times – Volume 3” from University of Georgia Press.
“We want to collect and preserve these materials before it is too late,” Wise said. “While there are several excellent motorsports collections in the country, most focus on other types of racing and some restrict public access. Internet sites are good sources for quick, small pieces of information, but the Stock Car Racing Collection is for the individual who wants to go deeper.”
Do you have materials you would like to donate to the collection? Contact Curator Suzanne Wise at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-262-2798.