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This North Carolina speedway discovery may have roots in prohibition

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Inspectors at a racetrack in North Carolina found something unexpected last week - an enclosed area beneath the grandstand. And now there is speculation they may have stumbled upon a forgotten moonshine cave. Nick de la Canal of member station WFAE has our story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Gentlemen, start your engines.

NICK DE LA CANAL, BYLINE: The short oval racetrack at the North Wilkesboro Speedway has drawn crowds as far back as 1947, one year before the founding of NASCAR. At the time, many drivers were bootleggers, skilled at driving fast to evade federal regulators. And Wilkes County was known as the moonshine capital of the world. Now, the speedway could be adding to that lure.

SCOTT COOPER: There have been stories circulated for years about a moonshine still possibly being located at the speedway.

DE LA CANAL: That's Scott Cooper, a spokesperson for the speedway.

COOPER: And even a couple of stories that it could have been located underneath a grandstand.

DE LA CANAL: He says staff had no reason to believe the rumor until they were cleaning up and inspecting the grandstand last week. They noticed a large crack beneath a section of seating.

COOPER: And the crack was - actually had an area that had sort of fallen in behind it. And as they got in there and explored further, they realized that there was a big open area underneath this grandstand.

DE LA CANAL: At roughly 700 square feet, the space is just big enough to hold a moonshine still or some barrels of whiskey. Cooper says the racetrack can't prove anything. And it's also possible the space was just part of an old entrance to the infield. Some insiders, like Winston Kelley, are skeptical. He's the executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

WINSTON KELLEY: I guess anything in life is plausible, but I also know how stories kind of take a life of their own.

DE LA CANAL: Still, some fans on social media are calling for the racetrack to turn the space into a tiny bar or a speakeasy. For now, the racetrack will try to dig up more history on the forgotten space, then repair the seating area ahead of the NASCAR All-Star Race in May.

For NPR News, I'm Nick de la Canal in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nick de la Canal
WFAE's Nick de la Canal can be heard on public radio airwaves across the Charlotte region, bringing listeners the latest in local and regional news updates. He's been a part of the WFAE newsroom since 2013, when he began as an intern. His reporting helped the station earn an Edward R. Murrow award for breaking news coverage following the Keith Scott shooting and protests in September 2016. More recently, he's been reporting on food, culture, transportation, immigration, and even the paranormal on the FAQ City podcast. He grew up in Charlotte, graduated from Myers Park High, and received his degree in journalism from Emerson College in Boston. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal