Opening in 1964, the Hillsville Speedway (later Speedway 52) in Carroll
County combined the flag stand and the officials’ box in one structure.
Howard Linkletter of Staunton roars off the line at the Roanoke Drag
Strip, circa 1959. Linkletter's hot rod is a 1931 chopped Ford coupe
with a Cadillac engine.
A Ford roadster has the edge over a ’34 Ford coupe at the Airport
Drag Strip in Alleghany County in the late 1950s.
Owner and driver Ronnie Cox of Marion and mechanic Willard Gott of Blountville,
Tennessee, pose behind their dragster at the Roanoke Drag Strip, circa
Students from Jefferson High School pose with a 1940 Ford coupe in the
pits at the Roanoke Drag Strip, circa early 1960s. Many car builders
and mechanics have learned their basic skills in high school vocational
the early decades of the 1900s Americans parked their buggies in the
barn and drove the automobile into the center of our national character.
The car rapidly changed life for nearly everyone. Young men in the
Virginia highlands, like their counterparts elsewhere across the United
States, soon became enchanted with the automobile’s power and
design, and a regional automobile-oriented culture blossomed.
1920 and 1950 Southwest Virginia’s racing and hot rodding scene
grew from four major interests: Moonshiners were hauling liquor in
modified automobiles, oval track racers were sliding around the many
dirt speedways in the region, drag racers were roaring down empty
highways and local drag strips, and cruisers were trying to look their
coolest as they drove through popular
hangouts. The different elements of Southwest Virginia’s car
culture overlapped, but they were all fueled by a growing population
of teenage and young adult males.
Virginia’s early car scene combined technology and pop culture
with traditional know-how. Before the 1960s nearly every car in America
was a product of Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors. Engines and running
gears were fairly straightforward, and many young men learned basic
mechanical skills watching their fathers work on family sedans. With
the economy booming after World War II, teenagers could buy cheap,
used 1930s models. In garages, at race tracks, in car clubs, in high
school vocational classes, and from magazines, the “motorheads”
picked up more skills and ideas. The growling cars they built in the
1940s and ‘50s became icons of young male restlessness, and
movies and pop songs burned that image into our national folklore.
Yet in truth the car scene was largely made up of focused, inventive,
and often artistic men from all backgrounds.
For more than 70 years now, skilled Southwest Virginia drivers, mechanics,
and body-and-fender men have been modifying passenger cars into speed
machines and show vehicles. Today racing—both legal and illegal—is
wildly popular, and “cruise-in” gatherings of street rodders
and custom car owners are held on nearly every warm-weather weekend.
The regional love affair with the souped-up, chopped-down, tricked-out
automobile obviously rolls along.
Bill Garlick (center) works on an engine to go in his son's
race car, circa 1953. Garlick was a major builder of race cars
and racing motors in the Roanoke area.