The North Carolina Department of Natural & Cultural Resources (DNCR) in conjunction with other organizations dedicated to the state’s rich history, recently unveiled the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail in order to highlight the history of bootlegging and stock car racing in the Tar Heel State.
Funding for the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail was allocated in the 2021 state budget and developed under the DNCR.
The unveiling location took place at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City on May 26. In a post on the museum’s Facebook page, the secretary of the DNCR was on hand to provide remarks dedicating the trail.
“This trail will help preserve motorsports and distilling history and culture and enhance those industries’ economic strength going forward,” said DNCR Secretary Reid Wilson. “Without question, moonshine and motorsports are connected in North Carolina, and this trail project aims to instill a sense of pride and ownership in this unique aspect of North Carolina culture.”
According to the DNCR website, the trail designation is an important part in highlighting North Carolina’s historical and contemporary relationship between distilling and motorsports.
“The Moonshine and Motorsports Trail highlights the state’s unique history,” the DNCR statement said. “Distilling grew out of the state’s rich agricultural and social history and auto racing in North Carolina has grown from occasional competitions among speed-hungry moonshiners during the 1930s to a multibillion-dollar industry that attracts legions of devoted followers across the nation and world.”
In an emailed statement to Carolina Journal, Museum of the Albemarle operations manager Barbara Putnam outlined the unique history of moonshining in the eastern part of the state.
“Residents of the Albemarle Sound Region made illegal liquor long before the moonshining industry became popular in the Appalachian Mountains,” Putnam said. “The desolate swampland in northeastern North Carolina was ideal for concealing stills. The numerous rivers emptying into the Albemarle Sound provided the freshwater needed to manufacture the moonshine as well as an easy way to transport the finished product to the state’s small ports in boats.”
East Lake township in Dare County also played a role in moonshine shipping and production.
“The rivers harbored remote, inaccessible areas; places only known by the locals where a bootlegger could disappear with a shipment,” Putnam told Carolina Journal. “Although most still sites in nearby counties could be reached easily by automobile and then on foot, East Lake on the Dare County mainland was accessible only by boat. By 1923, it was apparent that East Lake shipped large quantities of quality moonshine to Norfolk, Baltimore, and other northern cities. A great volume of moonshine was produced in the swamps of Dare County and adjacent counties.”
In an interview with CJ, Putnam credited the trail for bringing an awareness to the history of moonshine and auto racing in the state.
“I think it is a unique history,” she said. “Most people associate the moonshine industry with the mountains in North Carolina but there are also places in eastern North Carolina like the Dismal Swamp and East Lake. When most people envision moonshiners, they envision the mountains of North Carolina, so I think the importance of this is about bringing an awareness that auto car racing started from people who were making moonshine and were trying to get away from law enforcement. It eventually turned into a million-dollar recreational activity sponsored by high dollar corporations, and is an interesting piece of the history of North Carolina.”
Awareness was also brought to the trail designation on May 27 during the Xfinity Series Alsco 300 race held in Charlotte, where JD Motorsports driver Brennan Poole’s No. 6 Chevrolet car featured a branding logo for the trail.
There are eight designations to be unveiled this year as part of the “Year of the Trail” theme created by the DNCR. The sites include the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Museum in Charlotte, the North Wilkesboro Speedway, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, Stone Mountain State Park in Alleghany and Wilkes counties, the Occoneechee Speedway near Hillsborough, the Rockingham Speedway, and the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.