The Breathitt County International Speedway

By Stephen D. Bowling

Long before the Honey Festival became a Labor Day tradition, there was another pastime that drew people to Breathitt County over the three-day holiday weekend.  The Breathitt County International Speedway always sponsored a huge feature race at its track at Si Bend.  Labor Day 1970 was no different.

The Breathitt County International Speedway opened on Sunday, June 28, 1970, with Paul Branham as manager.  The track was owned by Si-Bend Enterprises, Inc., with owners Jack Brown and Lewis Henry Warrix at the helm.  The quarter-mile track was designed by specialist Demp Allen and constructed by The Jim Hudson Construction Company from Clayhole. 

The dirt oval was constructed in the spring of 1970 with 60-foot-wide turns with 14-foot banks.  Two 330-foot-long straight-a-ways were each 50 feet wide to encourage “competitive passing.” The dirt was layered and compacted to help reduce dust.  The guardrails and other safety features made the Speedway the “safest quarter-mile in the business for drivers and spectators.”

The track had a limit to prevent professional investments and professional drivers.  According to the rules, no driver could spend no more than $150 to purchase their vehicle.  All cars had to be a 1950 model or later, and no compact or foreign cars were allowed.  Roller bars were required, and the right front wheel had to be reinforced.  All other parts on the vehicles had to be “stock.” The track employed local expert David Blanton to answer any car construction questions and inspect and certify all vehicles before the races started.     

The opening weekend drew about 2,000 spectators who paid the $1.50 admission price to enjoy the races from bleachers that sat safely high on the hillside above the track.  Royal Crown Cola constructed a large chalet-style concession stand to serve the refreshment needs of the fans who came to the racetrack.

The Jackson Times published the result from the previous Sunday racing at Si Bend each week. This list of winners and their sponsors was published in the August 20, 1970 edition of The Jackson Times on page 6.

The first weekend of racing was declared an enormous success, with the winners including Bobby Napier, Charles “Hoot” Little, James Fugate, Reese Foster, Freddie Combs, and Harry Watts.  The track record for a single lap was established at 18.2 seconds by Tommy Carver and Reese Foster, who tied. 

Si-Bend Enterprises, Inc. owners Lewis Henry Warrix and Jack Brown announced the $250 purse and trophy awarded during the 1970 Labor Day weekend event.

The races set for Labor Day 1970 were particularly interesting to local race fans.  Owners Lewis Warrix and Jack Brown announced that a large four-foot trophy and $250 in prize money would be awarded to the winner of the feature event.  The track planned a huge two-day Labor Day Weekend Race event on Sunday and Monday, September 6-7, 1970.  They announced that more than $2,360 would be given away as purses for all races over the holiday weekend.    

Over the coming months, the track would feature many different races and a special visit from Bobby Watson of Dayton, Florida, the driver of the 101 car in the ARCA circuit. 

Later in the fall of 1970, the track introduced a new form of racing.  An advertisement in the October 1, 1970 edition of The Jackson Times announced that the track would feature a 3-lap mule race on Sunday, October 4, with the winner earning $50.00.  Unfortunately, the paper did not list the winner of this event in its next edition.

The October 1, 1970 edition of The Jackson Times announced the prize money and start time for the first mule race at the Breathitt County International Speedway.

The popularity of local racetracks grew through the 1970s and into the early 1980s.  Nearly fifty sprang up all over eastern Kentucky.  Through the years, Breathitt had several racetracks, including one on War Creek and the Lost Creek Speedway, which opened in 1972 to compete with the popularity of the Breathitt County International Speedway. 

By the early 1980s, NASCAR on television, the growth of softball, and other interests replaced the local tracks, and only a handful remain open in the mountain today.  The International Speedway closed and now is just an overgrown field on the Si Bend Farm. 

Sadly, the Breathitt County International Speedway is another place from our past that exists only in memories.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
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