Known colloquially as the "Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars," the Hickory Motor Speedway opened in 1951 as a half-mile dirt track. Among the drivers who became champions during the track's first decade were Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, and Ralph Earnhardt. The speedway began hosting NASCAR Grand National Series events in 1953; Tim Flock won the first race. Reconfigured several times during its history, the track was dropped from the Grand National schedule in 1971 after R.J. Reynolds, then the sponsor of the series, eliminated races under 250 miles. Though it remained popular as a venue for NASCAR Late Model Sportsman events, the speedway hosted progressively fewer major races during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1998 it was dropped from the Winston Cup schedule. It remains a venue for NASCAR's club racing division.