Has anyone watched the Discovery Channel’s Race Night at Bowman Gray? You will be forgiven if you haven’t seen it. The Discovery Channel has pulled the show that retells the story of last summer’s modified championship at Bowman Gray Stadium from its lineup. The series is available on the Discovery Channel’s website and app, as well as Amazon.com. According to the Journal, the final episode of Racing at Bowman Gray will air next week.
Race Night at Bowman Gray focuses on the rivalries between brothers Burt Myers and Jason Myers of Walnut Cove, Tim Brown of Tobaccoville, Jonathan Brown of Winston-Salem, and George Brunnhoelzl III from New York.
Race Night at Bowman Gray is an informative look at Bowman Gray racing. It’s reality TV at it’s best and worst. At times RNABG is part NASCAR and part professional wrestling. Race drivers bump and push each other around the short-track, then curse and threaten each other in the pits.
The Discovery Channel focuses its cameras on “America’s most infamous race track.” They don’t care about the city, much less the neighborhood that Bowman Gray is located in. I’m not a race fan. But I find the racial makeup of the fans at Bowman Gray and the area around Bowman Gray to be fascinating.
Bowman Gray may be America’s most infamous race track, but racism is still America’s most infamous problem. Not just overt racism expressed through offensive language, and Confederate flag-themed clothing (known to be popular with some BGS racin’ fans).
Structural racism is the problem of our time. It’s the legacy of centuries of slavery, de jure segregation, red-lining, urban renewal, mass incarceration and many other deeply-flawed policies that have led to spatial separation and a massive wealth gap between white folks and communities of color. Structural racism is responsible for the persistence of segregation in Winston today.
Bowman Gray is located at 1250 S Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It’s in the heart of East Winston, a predominately black and brown community. It’s on the campus of Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU. In addition to hosting Bowman Gray races, WSSU plays its home football games at Bowman Gray. WSSU’s commencement addresses are also held at Bowman Gray.
But on Saturday nights, from April through August each year 1250 S Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Winston Salem is transformed from a community of color to a majority white space. It’s Winston’s curious reverse white flight phenomenon.
Then, the rest of the year it reverts to a majority black space. The racial makeup of Bowman Gray completely turns over with the seasons. Curiously, Bowman Gray is both an epicenter of black culture and white culture depending on the season. Only in Winston!
Some of the race fans that come to Bowman Gray from all over Forsyth County and surrounding counties may have left East Winston decades ago. A little-known fact, East Winston started out as a white neighborhood during the Jim Crow era.
From Frank Tursi’s Winston-Salem, A History:
Traditional housing patterns began to change between the world wars, as the burgeoning black population spread north and east from historic black neighborhoods. What is now predominantly black East Wiston was a white neighborhood at the turn of the century, with white families living along East Third, East Fourth, and East Fifth streets. The constuction of City Hospital, Skyland Chook, Union Station, and Bowman Gray Stadium in the area reflected the stability of the white neighborhood.
Blacks built houses on the fringes of East Winston after World War I, which caused friction. A black woman moved into a house on the corner of Woodland Avenue and East Eighth Street, then a white section. She was burned out. It wasn’t until 1941, when Jasper Carpenter became the first black to buy a house around City Hospital, that the white exodus from East Winston began. Within two years the area was entirely black.”
Bowman Gray Stadium is a peculiar Winston-Salem institution, both white and black, like the checkered flag that waves during race nights at Bowman Gray.