As part of Indian Trail’s 105th anniversary, we’re running a series of short articles about the town’s history.
The honor of owning the first automobiles in Indian Trail goes to Sam Harrison Crowell and Milt Harkey. Crowell purchased a 1907 Rambler while Harkey bought a 1912 Ford. Early roads often followed remnants of Indian trails and the wagon road and were not paved. When it rained, wagons, and later automobiles, left deep ruts. The growing availability of automobiles prompted further road construction. Initially, the county made use of prisoners to build and maintain roads.
In 1921, the state passed legislation to connect each county seat with neighboring county seats via macadam or blacktop road. In 1931, the state took over maintenance of all roads. In the early 1950s, the new Route 74 made travel easier for local residents and opened Indian Trail to development. Automobiles and improved roads gradually took passengers away from the trains especially in the post World War II era.
Cars and roads often meant racing. In October 1924, the Charlotte Speedway opened with a 1.25-mile plank track of green pine and cypress. Approximately 35,000 fans attended the opening, traveling the 9 miles from Charlotte, mostly by free trains, to the 282-acre site just north of Pineville. Promoters cleared $25,000 and arranged another race, which led to later racing events, larger speedways and NASCAR. The Great Depression and serious weather damage caused its closing after years of exciting entertainment.
Numerous racecar pioneers were native sons of Indian Trail. Among them were Bruce Thompson, his sons Alfred “Speedy” Thompson and Jimmy Thompson, Tommy Starnes, Samuel “Bunk” Moore, Don Rogers and Baxter Price. Bruce Thompson, along with Bill France and his bootlegger friend Joe Littlejohn, from Spartanburg, S.C., made major contributions in organizing stock car racing throughout the piedmont prior to World War II.
In 1957, Parks Williams of Monroe built a drag strip on his property. The strip was very popular and he added a quarter-mile oval Starlite Speedway in 1960. The track stands could hold 8,000 fans. Legends like Ralph Earnhardt, Buddy Moore and Alfred “Speedy” Thompson all raced at Starlite. The track closed in 1976 and was bulldozed in the mid 1980s for an industrial park. Starlite hosted NASCAR Grand National events and is remembered as the site of the fatal crash of James Sears in the 1970s. Indian Trail drivers Samuel “Bunk” Moore, Don Rogers and Baxter Price were regulars at the track.
Text by Roger J. Fish, Indian Trail