Birmingham International Raceway

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Raceway grandstands just before demolition in January 2009

The Birmingham International Raceway, or BIR (formerly Fairgrounds Raceway, Birmingham Super Speedway, Birmingham Super Raceway and Birmingham International Speedway) was a 5/8-mile oval paved racetrack located at the Alabama State Fairgrounds in the Five Points West neighborhood of Birmingham.

History

The original one-mile clay oval was built as a horse track. On October 7, 1906 the track hosted its first motorcycle race, followed by an automobile race three days later. The 1906 Alabama-Auburn Game was played before the grandstand in November.

These events continued regularly through 1917. German Grand Prix driver Emile Strickler died after being thrown from his Renault during his and Louis Strang's joint attempt to break a 24-hour speed record on November 17, 1908.

The track was closed in 1921, but reopened with a new 8,000-seat grandstand in 1925. The new facility featured horse racing on weekdays and auto races on Saturdays. It attracted the International Motor Contest Association's 10-mile national championship event away from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Chevrolet Brothers debuted their dirt-track racing car there.

In 1932 the oval was reduced to a half-mile circuit. The smaller configuration was used until July 4, 1942, when it closed for World War II. "World's Fastest Woman" Elfrieda Mais died while performing a stunt involving a wall rigged with dynamite at the track on September 27, 1934. After crashing through the wall she lost control and collided with a road-grader before plowing into an embankment.

After the War, the track was reopened on October 1, 1946 "Childrens Day" at the Alabama State Fair, featuring the "Auto Daredevils". That year the track began hosting weekly Sunday afternoon auto-racing events organized by promoter J. P. Rotton Jr. He maintained a stable of mid-1930's model race cars, later adding the Golden Tornado, a 1953 Studebaker Starlight painted with real gold dust. In the late 1950s racing legend Nero Steptoe won a 25-lap race riding for most of it on only three wheels after one flew off.

A quarter-mile dirt oval was added in 1958 and was the first track to be paved, with the first events held on the new surface on July 15, 1960. After one season of racing on the quarter-mile track the present five-eighths-mile course was constructed under the direction of new promoter Tom Gloor. The new course featured a longer straightaway closer to the grandstand. The first race on the reconfigured track, newly dubbed the "Birmingham International Raceway" was held on June 28, 1962. Gloor later oversaw the installation of new lighting and moved the Sunday afternoon races to Friday nights.

Between 1958 and 1968 a total of eight NASCAR races were run at the Fairgrounds Raceway. During the same period Bobby Allison had moved to Hueytown from Miami, Florida and convinced his brother Donnie and fellow racer Red Farmer to join him in founding a new race shop. The so-called "Alabama Gang" dominated the races at the Fairgrounds track, but other legends of the sport also recorded wins, including Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty, and Ned Jarrett.

The track was last paved in 1972.Bobby Allison bought the contract to operate the track in 1976 and 1977.

The track's final event, A World 200 late-model race held on October 30, 2008, finished with Justin South and Ken McFarland crossing the line with their cars locked together. South was credited with the victory. The track's last manager was Joey Simms.

Demolition

On June 19, 2008, Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford proposed a plan to move BIR from the Fairgrounds to city-owned property in northwest Birmingham off of Daniel Payne Drive next to Daniel Payne Industrial Park. Langford said the track, which has been in continuous operation for over 80 years in Five Points West, needed to be upgraded, and did not fit into the city's plans for the renovation of Fair Park. Langford committed $1 million to the project, but stated that track officials would have to come up with the majority of the funds needed for the relocation.

On January 30, 2009, demolition of the grandstands began with a presentation by Langford and other city leaders on the plans for the site.

Alabama State Fairgrounds
Buildings Alabama State Fair cattle barn · Bill Harris Arena · Birmingham International Raceway · Exposition Building · Kiddieland
Events Alabama State Fair · Birmingham Fairgrounds Flea Market · Fair Park redevelopment · Fall Carnival · Southern Heritage Festival · Spring Fling
Exhibits Batmobile Rescue Ship · Engine No. 4018 · Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture · Vulcan
Organizations Alabama State Fair Authority · Birmingham Bandits · Birmingham Magicians · Birmingham Power · Magic City Court Kings

References