It’s easy to miss it as you drive along the Calhoun Memorial highway. And even after finding the right exit - having missed it the first time - it isn’t clear I’m in the right place until I catch a few glimpses of the track through the trees.
Finally, I’m facing a faded sign that proudly states ‘Greenville-Pickens Speedway… Sanctioned by Nascar’. Oversized pickup trucks hauling vast triple-axle trailers are already turning up for the open practice session that’ll soon be kicking off, and I get a little giddy. My first time watching stock cars in their natural environment will be at Nascar’s second oldest circuit, so I can’t help but grin with anticipation.
My excitement is soon curtailed however - it seems members of the public and/or media don’t really come to watch the practice sessions, so to gain access, I have to line up outside a little office in the baking South Carolina heat with all the drivers who are signing on.
15 minutes later I have my wristband for entry, and expecting to be handed a bunch of rules and restrictions, I’m simply told “just don’t run in front of the cars and you’ll be fine.”
The track is still closed, so I’m instructed to cross it to get to the infield. Immediately, I’m struck by how tired everything looks. Off the racing line, tufts of grass poke out of the asphalt. The sponsor signs that line the track are rusty. Just over the other side of the half-mile oval is a grandstand that’s roped off, as it’s slowly collapsing on itself.
That’s the charm with Greenville-Pickens. You can really feel the history here, and it’s a world away from the overly-corporate impression of Nascar we’re fed the other side of the pond.
Walking around here reminds me of the abandoned Reims-Geux circuit in France; only here, racing still happens. Every week, in fact, with the track hosting various series including the the Whelen All-American Series and K&N Pro Series East.
And that’s the beauty of this morning: while wandering through this historic facility, I’ll have a stock car soundtrack assaulting my ears. The cars - mostly ‘late model’ stocks - are being unloaded and fired up, filling the air with noise and the rich smell of petrol.
Even with just a handful of cars on track, the collective noise of all those V8s makes for a brilliantly effective and quite brutal symphony. I may be over 4000 miles away from the UK, but I feel like I’m at home here.
The pit lane is a disarmingly simple affair. There are no pit garages, simply a row of pop-up gazebos to keep the cars and drivers cool(ish), behind which are the huge trailers that transported everything here. In terms of structures, there’s a scrutineering bay, a small hut full of tyres…and that’s it. It’s a simple place, this, with little to distract you from what’s on track.
That’s further reinforced when I look for a way to get back to the outside of the track - I can’t. There are no bridges or tunnels linking the infield to the outside world, meaning I have to just wait until the track is closed to make my exit.
When I’m finally able to, I walk a slow lap around the facility, imagining the earliest races that took place here. Greenville-Pickens first opened its doors in 1940 as a half-mile dirt oval, only to be closed shortly after owing to the USA’s entrance into World War II.
Racing returned to Greenville-Pickens in 1946, and in 1970, the dirt track was replaced with the asphalt oval you see today. The most significant moment in the circuit’s facility came the next year, when the Greenville 200 became the first Nascar race to be televised in its entireity.
I’ve made it around to the main concrete terrace and decide to step down to the catch fencing - all I’ve wanted to do since arriving is witness the full rage of a V8 stock car at close proximity. When I finally do, I inadvertently yell a series of unrepeatable words, with the noise and air displacement violently smashing into me as one car rips past the catch fencing. And that’s just one car - I rue the fact that I have to leave to catch a flight and can’t stay for the race.
Greenville-Pickens may be past its prime right now, but the future’s bright. With Greenville itself the fastest-growing city in the state, Pickens may well be able to capitalise on the increased number of bodies it can entice through its gates. If I lived here, they wouldn’t be able to keep me away.