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Petty Patriarch Passes

Lee Petty in front of his trademark number 42 car. Image from NASCAR.

On April 5, 2000, stock car racing legend and NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty died in Greensboro. He was 86.

It wasn’t until age 35 that Petty began his racing career, driving a borrowed 1946 Buick Roadmaster in NASCAR’s first “strictly stock” race in June 1949 in Charlotte. That same year, Petty established a garage in a repurposed reaper shed on his family’s farm in Randleman. Over the course of his career, Petty claimed 50 wins, including three NASCAR championships and the top spot at the inaugural Daytona 500 in February 1959.

A serious wreck during a 1961 qualifying race at Daytona left Petty with a punctured lung and a badly broken leg. He recovered but only participated in six more races before his retirement in 1964. Though his racing days were behind him, Petty continued to manage his garage. Eventually he was joined by his sons, Richard and Maurice, and grandson, Kyle. Known as Petty Enterprises, the complex grew to 16 buildings, including racing workshops and fabrication facilities.

Petty’s son Richard went on to become a seven-time NASCAR champion and claimed a record 200 career victories, including seven Daytona 500 wins.

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Valvano’s 1983 Championship Stuff of Memories for Wolfpack Fans

Coach Jim Valvano and members of the N.C. State men’s basketball team celebrate after their 1983 championship win. Image from the State Archives and copyright the News & Observer.

On April 4, 1983, the North Carolina State University Wolfpack won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After a series of unlikely and often last minute wins that began during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament weeks earlier, the “Cardiac Pack,” under the leadership of head coach Jim Valvano, culminated its run with a barn burner over the University of Houston Cougars. The Cougars were nicknamed “Phi Slama Jama” for their expertise in slam dunking basketballs over the heads of opponents, so chances were slim that the underdog Wolfpack would pull off the upset.

One Washington Post sports reporter wrote, “Trees will tap-dance, elephants will drive at Indy and Orson Welles will skip lunch before North Carolina State finds a way to beat Houston.” But find a way they did. Both State’s first and last shots were dunks, and that last shot came just as the buzzer sounded, clinching the victory for the Pack, 54-52.

The images of Lorenzo Charles making the basket and Coach Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug have become iconic in sports culture, and both are fitting tributes to two extraordinary individuals who are no longer with us.

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Carowinds, Theme Park, Opened 1973

The original carousel at Carowinds in 1973. Image from WSOC-TV.

On March 31, 1973, Carowinds, near Charlotte, opened to the public.

Miss North Carolina and Miss South Carolina cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. Young Charlotte resident, Jimmy Henderson, waving a giant ticket, led about 3,000 visitors into the park in a parade reminiscent of the opening of Disneyland in California.

Constructing one of the roller coasters at Carowinds in 1973. Image from WSOC-TV.

Many had waited since before dawn to be among the first ones admitted at 10 a.m. Drenching rain fell on the park that straddles the state line between North and South Carolina that first day, and despite the less than ideal conditions, more than 6,000 people came through the park’s main gates.

Carowinds, the dream of Charlotte developer E. Pat Hall, was spread over 73 acres and, at the time of its opening, was larger than Disneyland, Astroworld in Houston, and Six Flags Over Georgia in Atlanta. Construction cost more than $30 million and took about three years to complete.

A golden concrete state line runs through the park.  Two weeks before the opening, the legislatures of both states met at the park in a joint session.

Check out this slideshow on WSOC’s website to see images of Carowinds throughout the years.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Championship Win #1 for Dean Smith

Dean Smith (left) with then-freshman Michael Jordan (far right) and two other members of the 1982 UNC basketball team. Image from the Associated Press.

On March 29, 1982, UNC basketball Coach Dean Smith and his Tar Heels won the school’s first national title since 1957. The Tar Heels took on the Georgetown University Bulldogs in New Orleans in final game in the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament that year.

Expectations for the Tar Heels were high since the team lost in the NCAA championship game the previous year. The star power of the 1982 UNC team also raised the hopes of fans with key players Sam Perkins and James Worthy returning from the previous season and being joined by freshman guard Michael Jordan.

The game was close the entire time. The team in the lead was never ahead by more than a few points, with both teams going back and forth the whole night. With 32 seconds left in the game, the Tar Heels were behind. Smith called for a time out, and whatever was said in huddle seemed to work, because when the Tar Heels took the court again Jordan took a jump shot giving them the lead and the win at 63 to 62.

Smith coached the UNC Tar Heels for a total of 36 seasons and took the team to the NCAA tournament 25 times; he earned one more national championship title in 1993 and 17 ACC titles.

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A Look Back at Streakers

A March 1974 article describing streak week in The Decree, then the student newspaper at N.C. Wesleyan College.

A March 1974 article describing streak week in The Decree, then the student newspaper at
N.C. Wesleyan College.

On March 5, 1974, at the end of “Streak Week,” students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill loosely organized the American Streaker Society. Under a banner proclaiming “Home of the World Champion Streakers,” about 900 naked students ran across campus through a crowd of 6,000 onlookers, accompanied by the University pep band.

Western Carolina University laid claim to the first major streak of the short-lived fad, making North Carolina the streaking epicenter of the nation. All of the major universities in the state and many of the smaller universities and colleges had streaking events on their campuses. Authorities reacted in many different ways to the campus craze, from amused tolerance to arrests and threats of expulsion.

A North Carolina state senator said that he was mulling over the efficacy of introducing a Streaker Ban Bill. It was unnecessary, though, since the phenomenon faded almost as suddenly as it had appeared.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Chatham County “Blood Shower”

A journal article by F. B. Venable on the phenomenon. Image from OpenLibrary.org.

The first page of a journal article by F. B. Venable on the Chatham County “Blood Shower.” Image from OpenLibrary.org.

On February 25, 1884, Mrs. Kit Lasater, “noted for truthfulness,” was walking near her home in the New Hope township of Chatham County when she heard what she thought was a hard rain fall. Glancing up she saw only clear sky but when she glanced down she saw what appeared to be the aftermath of a “shower of pure blood.”

None of the liquid had fallen on her but it had drenched the ground and surrounding trees for some 60 feet (some accounts say yards) in circumference from the spot where she stood. Upon hearing her story, neighbors rushed to see for themselves and, when later interviewed, confirmed the story as related by Mrs. Lasater.

Samples were collected and sent to Dr. F. P. Venable, a professor at UNC, for evaluation. By mid-April he addressed the topic to the Mitchell Scientific Society. In every test performed except one, the conclusion was the same. The samples appeared to be blood. Venable could offer no explanation beyond the results of the tests, suggesting that “the subject is quite a puzzle and offers a tempting field for the theorist blessed with a vivid imagination.”

Similar cases of blood showers have been reported for centuries in various locations around the world.

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Avery County, High Country Tourist Beacon

Looking out at a sunrise or sunset from Grandfather Mountain, circa 1960s-1970s. Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library.

Looking out at a sunrise or sunset from Grandfather Mountain in Avery County, circa 1960s-1970s. Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library.

On February 23, 1911, Avery County became the last of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Located on the Tennessee border in the mountainous northwest corner of the state called the “High Country,” Avery was formed from parts of neighboring Mitchell, Watauga and Caldwell counties. It was named for Colonel Waightstill Avery, a Revolutionary War officer and the state’s first attorney general.

A 1968 geodetic survey map of Avery County. Image from the State Archives.

A 1968 geodetic survey map of Avery County.
Image from the State Archives.

The county’s large strands of Fraser fir trees have made it known as “the Christmas tree capital.” A popular tourist destination, Avery County also has become known as the home of Grandfather Mountain, its annual Highland Games and the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Linn Cove Viaduct, a curved, 1,234-foot-long, elevated bridge recognized as one of America’s major engineering feats.

The town of Newland, incorporated in 1913 and named for lieutenant governor William Calhoun Newland, is the county seat. At 3,589 feet in elevation, it is the highest county seat in the eastern United States.

Avery’s Beech Mountain ski resort community, which got its start in the late 1960s, became a town in 1981. Located at 5,506 feet in elevation, it is the highest municipality in eastern America and receives nearly 100 inches of snow each winter.

See more stunning historical images of Avery County from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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