Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: 50 Years at Charlotte Wasn’t Just for Fans & Drivers

CONCORD, N.C. – Fifty years of racing at Charlotte is something special for two men. Earl Springs and David Suddreth have both been working at Charlotte Motor Speedway for all 50 years of its existence. Springs has sold programs and Suddreth has been a security guard for all of the races that have taken place at the speedway for its entire lifetime.

Springs grew up on the west side of Charlotte and is still living in the same place that he has called home his entire life. His first exposure to racing was when NASCAR ran a strictly stock race on a racetrack on Little Rock Road across the street from his home. They sold programs for a quarter a piece and made a nickel for each one they sold. He also sold programs at the last three beach races and the first 48 races at Daytona International Speedway. He’s also sold programs at Atlanta, Richmond, Bristol, Darlington, Rockingham and the old Asheville Speedway.

He remembers a race in 1956 when he said 85 cars started, although the record books show 76 cars took the green flag. He said it was amazing to see a track that had a 2-mile paved straight and a 2-mile beach straight with 0.1-mile turns at each end. There was a grandstand at each end and you could not see from one end of the track to the other. If something happened at one end, the only thing you knew was the cars didn’t make it back to the other end. He said fans would try and find the best place to see the race, but there wasn’t any place that you could see the whole track.

See also
Racing at the Beach: The Early History of Daytona, 1949-58

He was amazed that fans would run across the track in the middle of the event to try and get to better seats. He’s astounded no one was ever killed during an event. After one of the beach races a friend took him to a place in the interior of Daytona that looked like a jungle. It is what is now the Daytona International Speedway.

He has been married twice, once for 23 years and currently for 30 years. He has three kids, six grandkids and three great grandchildren.

He feels as though racing in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s was better than it is today, although he realizes that the changes that have been made are for safety and he appreciates that.

He used to walk the stands selling programs, but now they give away too much stuff along with the programs so he has to stay in a fixed location. He has met many people with working at the track, although he doesn’t get the exposure to the celebrities that Mr. Suddreth has.

Suddreth has worked as a brick mason and masonry contractor for a majority of his life, but for more years than that, he’s worked as a security guard at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He worked the first race as security for the flagstand and controlling the gate if the flagman needed to come down to the track.

After the first year he moved up the stands a little because he was covered with debris from the track. Moving up didn’t make a difference and he was still covered. His third year he was next to the fence and was pelted with debris from the track breaking up that year. After that he was moved to the pit lane and has been there ever since. He was originally hired for 95 cents an hour.

When he first started at the track he also worked for Hulman-Moody as a parts man pulling parts for their engine shop. When he started there Cale Yarborough was sweeping floors and they used to play football to pass time around the shop.

His favorite races were the convertibles back in the ’50s. His favorite driver was David Pearson. His favorite memory was from after the All-Star Race when Dale Earnhardt drove through the grass to maintain the lead over Bill Elliott. He was escorting Earnhardt up to the press area and was on the elevator with Humpy Wheeler and Earnhardt. Earnhardt asked Wheeler what he thought of his driving and Wheeler told him that he was mad because it tore up the grass in his infield.

He’s dealt with all sorts of things in the garage area but his favorite was a woman who wore a raincoat in the garage to see a driver. When she got into the garage she took off the raincoat and she was clad in a bikini. After some convincing she left when he pointed out that it was not approved attire for the garage area.

He’s famous for riding his motorcycle around the grounds and tells a story of Earnhardt asking him for a ride from the condos over to the garage area so that he would not get mobbed by his fans. When they left the condos fans were chasing them and Earnhardt was wiggling around on the bike making it difficult to drive. Suddreth stopped and Earnhardt yelled at him and told him not to stop. He told Earnhardt that he better sit still if he wanted a ride.

Earnhardt told him to go to the garage and he told him that he knew some fans in the third turn that would like to talk to him. They were some fans who were known to have a particular dislike for Earnhardt and his driving style. As they drove past the garage Earnhardt was yelling at him to stop. Suddreth took him all of the way to turn 3 and Earnhardt swore he’d never take another ride on his bike again.

Safety is his number one priority, keeping people off the pit wall and out of places where they are not supposed to be. When it came to safety, one of his biggest charges was caring for a million dollars that was being used in a promotion. A truck driver pulled up and asked him to sign for the million dollars. He said there was no way he’d do that and Mr. Wheeler called down and personally convinced him to do it. During the photo shoot, Earnhardt opened one of the packs of money off the skid and started throwing it around the garage.

Later in the shoot, the forklift driver didn’t properly get under the pallet of money and when he lifted it the whole thing dumped over. Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace grabbed some of the money and ran off with it. When the truck driver counted the money at the end of the day there were five packs of bills missing. Suddreth went to Earnhardt and accused him of taking the money. Earnhardt claimed he knew nothing of it, but that he might want to check under the bed in his motorhome. The missing money was found there.F

Fifty years is a long time and there are a lot of memories created for a lot of people. The memories that these two men hold are very special and encompass the whole history of the sport.

About the author


What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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