Former Rockingham Dragway owner, S.P. resident gets Jeff Byrd Award

Southern Pines resident Steve Earwood, a founding member of the North Carolina Motorsports Association, a member of the Governor’s Motorsports Advisory Council, and, for 31 years, the owner of Rockingham Dragway, was among those honored recently at the banquet celebrating the 2024 class of the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

The ceremonies at the Greensboro Coliseum marked the conclusion of the 21st annual Shriner’s Drag Racing and Hot Rod Expo, which has donated more than $185,000 to support Shriners’ Children’s Hospital, according to a press release.

Earwood, former national media relations director for the NHRA, drag racing’s principal sanctioning organization, accepted the Jeff Byrd Memorial Award for lifetime achievement from racing legend and fellow Carolina resident Shirley Muldowney.

“Naturally, it is a great honor,” Earwood said, “especially because of all the years I had the pleasure of working with Jeff Byrd in the Winston Drag Racing Series.

“But to have Shirley make the presentation put it in a category by itself,” he said. “She and I have a lot of history together. She broke all the barriers in motor sports and she always was willing to go the extra mile to promote drag racing and change the image. She and I did a lot of appearances and media tours in the 1970s and ‘80s.”

Another prominent Carolina track operator, the late Jim Turner, was presented the Pioneer Award, which was accepted on his behalf by his wife, Dora. The Turners not only successfully managed Piedmont Dragway but also were key to the success of the Expo and the Hall of Fame.

New HOF members introduced Saturday were Top Fuel Motorcycle legend and 20-time series champion Larry “Spiderman” McBride, race car builder and 1991 Darlington Pro Mod winner Wally Stroupe, Rob Vandergriff, once driver of “the world’s fastest ’57 Chevy,” and 1986 IHRA Hot Rod World Champion Charlie Wisecarver and his brother Gary.

Byrd, for whom the Lifetime Achievement award is named, was manager of the Winston Drag Racing Team in the 1980s before accepting a position as president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. One of the most respected executives in the motorsports industry, he succumbed to cancer in 2010.

After his tenure at the NHRA and managing the 1986 opening of the Texas Motorplex outside Dallas as the track’s VP of marketing, Earwood was co-owner and general manager of the now defunct Atlanta Dragway in Georgia, overseeing a $3.5 million makeover.

That led to his 1992 purchase of Rockingham Dragway, a track that for 10 years hosted the biggest event outside of the NHRA pro tour, the NHRA Winston Invitational, the first drag race to pay $100,000 to champions in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions.

Twice the IHRA’s national “Promoter of the Year” (2001 and 2008), he was also recognized by the NHRA as its 1994 “Person of the Year” in the six-state Southeast Division. After earning a spot in the Southeast Division Hall of Fame along with his brother, Terry, the 1973 U.S. Nationals Super Stock Champion, he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2016 when he accepted the Founder’s Award from “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

In addition to drag racing, Earwood also promoted IMSA road races, the SCCA National Runoffs and selected SCCA Trans Am events and was a public relations consultant to the late Raymond Beadle’s Charlotte-based “Blue Max” NASCAR team when it won the Winston Cup championship in 1989 with driver Rusty Wallace.

Feature photo: Steve Earwood/Courtesy photo.


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