“Lost Speedways” debuted on PeacockTV this week as part of the first line of shows on the new online streaming service created by NBC. The series features eight episodes, each shining a spotlight on a defunct racing facility.
The show, hosted by NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Dirty Mo Media’s Matthew Dillner, is the result of a common bond between the two hosts dating back several years.
Originally, “Lost Speedways” was a website with accompanying social media accounts, created by Dillner in 2011 to raise awareness of race tracks closing throughout the United States. Through that project, Dillner connected with Earnhardt, Jr. and discovered they shared a passion for studying these former race tracks.
“It’s been over a decade that I’ve been working on it, as far as the social media platform,” Dillner said. “One of the coolest things we did a few years ago was make a calendar. That’s kind of what brought Dale and I closer together. It made us realize we share this passion.
“Here’s this guy who is the most popular driver in the sport. I’ve worked around him, we both came into NASCAR around the same time, but we didn’t really have a relationship. Suddenly, he’s taking interest in what I’m doing and we find out we both have the same obscure hobby. Next thing you know, we’re texting each other and in friend groups and text groups.”
Sharing the same passion as Dillner for abandoned race track, Earnhardt, Jr. jumped quickly at the opportunity to host the show and tell the stories of abandoned race tracks throughout the country.
“My reasons for wanting to do this show were purely selfish — I love the mystique and eeriness of abandoned things, especially when those things are race tracks. (Co-host) Matthew (Dillner) and I have been mapping the locations of abandoned tracks for years, and I always wanted to explore them,” Earnhardt Jr. told Speed51. “But this experience made me realize pretty quickly that, like everything else in life, there is more to it than just what you see. We learned there were unsung heroes, remarkable feats, incredible memories, checkered pasts and unhealed wounds that still needed attention.”
The connection between the two eventually led Dillner to JR Motorsports and Dirty Mo Media, where he now produces “The Dale Jr. Download” along with other original content. With time, that led to the origin of the “Lost Speedways” televisions series.
“I started working with his Dirty Mo team and I just knew in the back of my head he had that same interest. I knew someday it could happen, but I didn’t really let myself believe it.
“Dale is really the engine that drives it. This show wouldn’t happen without him, let’s be honest. I’m a history buff and I’ve been working in racing media all these years, but I’m not a name. Dale is what made this happen. I can’t even put into words how thankful I am about that.”
While the show launched as part of the debut of PeacockTV late Tuesday night, Dillner admitted it took some time for the reality to set in, and he still can’t believe at times it is indeed reality.
“When it launched [Tuesday] night, I didn’t know how to feel. My family isn’t home, they’re out in Kansas right now with my wife’s family. It sounds silly, but I was kind of numb. I didn’t know how to feel, happy or nervous or anxious?
“Going into the office and seeing it on the platform, seeing Dale at the office and Mike Davis and the rest of the team, I started getting excited and a little happy. Then I start getting the text messages, people in the industry, people that I’ve known in short track racing from the pit area to people in the stands to TV people like Rutledge Wood.
Those text messages have meant the world, and it’s been surprising who some of them have come from. It still doesn’t feel real. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, something that I’ve dreamed about doing for such a long time has become a reality.”
Earnhardt, Jr. and Dillner both agreed going into the show that it should focus on venues that the average race fan may not know about, foregoing more famous Lost Speedways such as North Wilkesboro Speedway. This allows them to educate fans about lesser-known tracks with fascinatingly rich histories of their own.
“We’re not going to North Wilkesboro and Rockingham, where everyone wanted us to go. Dale and I did not want to do that. We wanted to tell the stories of these tracks some people have never even heard of.
“Some people have never even heard of Hinchliffe Stadium, but the history of Hinchliffe in Passaic County, New Jersey, it has this rich history of Negro league baseball and midget racing. It was the epicenter of the midget boom in the Northeast and has this wonderful history that was multi-cultural in both baseball and racing.”
The show also presented a chance for Dillner to work with some of his friends who were alongside him with the original Lost Speedways platform.
“I had two of my OG Lost Speedways friends help on the show, Kyle Rizok and Bobby Markos. Bobby got to be on the Jungle Park episode. That was special to me.”
Dillner says the show has given each of the highlighted tracks a moment to breathe once again, having their stories heard by a new generation of fans.
“Uncovering these stories, you start to realize this is more than a racing show. This is really cool, obscure history and culture. I could talk for 10 hours about each one of these tracks.
“As you start to put each show together in post how special this can be. Whether we do one season or 15 seasons, each one of these episodes brings a track to life. For a guy like me who has a passion for the history of the sport, that means everything.”
To watch “Lost Speedways” today, visit peacocktv.com and sign up for a free account. From there, you will be able to watch all eight episodes of “Lost Speedways” as well as other programming.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Peacock