Tom Blackwell, longtime NASCAR track promoter and a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting committee, passed away Wednesday night. He was 81.
Blackwell operated and was the former owner of Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway, the second- oldest race track in NASCAR. He has been involved with the track since 1955, when his family purchased the half-mile paved oval from the Garrison family and then-track promoter Bill France Sr.
“Tom has been a close friend of the France family through the years and all of us at NASCAR are deeply saddened by his passing,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer. “You can’t write the history of NASCAR without including the contributions Tom and his family have made to this sport. On behalf of NASCAR and the France family, our thoughts and prayers are with Tom’s family and friends.”
Blackwell was born Oct. 31, 1928 in Kings Mountain, N.C., and was the son of the late Ernest and Exie Lewis Smith Blackwell. He was predeceased by four brothers and his sister, Peggy Tannery. Tannery passed away earlier Wednesday. He is survived by his wife, Joanne Blackwell, and his two sons, Keith and Mark Blackwell.
The Blackwell family – Tom, along with his brothers Lewis and Pete – operated Greenville Pickens through the formative years of NASCAR. Lewis passed away in the 1970s, and Pete in 2000. In 2003, Tom Blackwell, the longtime track steward, sold the facility to Greenville auto dealer Kevin Whitaker. Blackwell stayed on as the track general manager and promoter.
Greenville Pickens hosted 29 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races between 1951 and 1971. Included in that was the historic race on April 10, 1971 that was the first NASCAR race televised live flag-to-flag. The race was broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Since 1972, the track has also been a member of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and has hosted the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for the last six years.
“Tom embodied what this sport is all about,” said Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president of corporate communications. “He was one of a kind – you always knew exactly where you stood with Tom. Underneath that gruff exterior was a man who was deeply passionate about short-track racing – the fans, the competitors, and all the people and parts that go into making a successful track. Tom was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.”
Funeral arrangements are still pending.