Curtis Turner’s “41” (dark car near the center) runs in the pack at the Southwest Virginia Speedway in Smyth County in 1947. Some speculate that this was Turner’s first race.

Curtis Turner (left) of Floyd County became Southwest Virginia’s most successful stock car racer.

To this day, when great stock car drivers are mentioned, Curtis Turner’s name is on the short list, and he has unquestionably been Southwest Virginia’s most successful racer. Turner was born on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1924 in Floyd County, and he learned to drive on crooked country roads. With a natural affinity for speed, Curtis Turner showed his "stuff" whenever he got behind the controls of a motorized vehicle, and it did not make any difference whether the vehicle was a race car, family car, logging truck, or airplane. For millions of fans, however, Turner’s place was in an oval track stock car.

Stories of Curtis Turner’s prowess and antics on and off the racetrack are numerous and legendary. In his early days of racing, Turner would drive his car to the track, put a number on the doors with tape, run the race, and then drive the car back home. After secretly practicing for weeks, Turner once raced another driver backwards up curvy Mill Mountain in Roanoke to win a sizeable bet. A master of the 180-degree spin known as a “bootleg turn,” Turner convinced a judge he had full control of his car by performing the maneuver on a two-lane bridge.

Curtis Turner boldly drove into racing stardom. Some in the NASCAR world say Turner was the greatest driver ever. He crossed the finish line in first place over 350 times, and his wins include 18 NASCAR Grand National (now Winston Cup) victories; 38 NASCAR Convertible Division victories (22 in 1956 alone); scores of victories in other NASCAR, ARCA, or non-sanctioned events; and the 1962 Pike's Peak Climb in Colorado. Among Curtis Turner’s distinctions:

• He is the only NASCAR driver to win two Grand National races in a row from the pole by leading every lap.
• He is the only driver to win 25 major NASCAR races in one season driving the same car in each of them. (In 1956 Turner won 22 races with the #26 car in the convertible division and then won three more races after having a top welded in place.)
• He is the only driver to win a major NASCAR race that was red-flagged because his car was the only one still running.
• He was the first driver to climb the fourteen-mile Pike's Peak course in less than 15 minutes.
• He was the first driver to qualify for a NASCAR Grand National race at a speed greater than 180 miles per hour.

Curtis Turner died in a private plane crash on October 4, 1970, but the tales of his driving still fuel hours of track storytelling.

Acknowledgements | Ferrum College and the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum | Contact