Joe Carver, one of the best-known promoters in Langley Speedway's 63-year history, died on Saturday. A resident of Concord, N.C., he was 76.
Carver moved from the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tenn. to become promoter of what was then known as Langley Field Speedway, serving at the track from 1973-83. A series of promoters had experienced little success during the four years prior to his arrival.
"The place looked awful, the program wasn't very organized and there weren't many people there," Carver said during a 2000 interview with former Daily Press motorsports writer Al Pearce of his first impressions of Langley. "But we could see that it would be a real challenge, and we welcomed that.
"I think our 10 years there saw some of the best Late Model racing among some of the best drivers in the country. I think we helped put Langley on the map."
Pearce said on Saturday that the first time he met Carver, in a 1973 introductory press conference, he expressed cynicism that the new promoter could deliver on his promises to improve Langley.
"Do you know how many people I've heard make that same speech in the past five years?" Pearce said he asked Carver. "Joe replied, `Yeah, but I'm not like the rest of them because I'm going to do just what I said I was going to do.'
"He did, and more. He loved nothing more than stirring the pot, keeping people talking and wondering what he was going to do next."
Carver was an innovator, whose gimmicks included match races. He brought in big-name drivers from around the region and nation, once creating a $1,000-to-win match race between Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, Sonny Hutchins and Ray Hendrick.
In addition to Waltrip, Carver brought in NASCAR legends Bobby Allison, Benny Parsons, Dick Brooks, Lennie Pond and Neil Bonnett to race in special events. Waltrip tweeted on Saturday that Carver "is one of the best track promoters and PR guys I've ever known."
Carver promoted any feud, real or manufactured, that he could to draw attention to the track. By 1977, a grandstand that had been sparsely populated four years earlier was often crowded.
Some controversies were very real. Phil Warren, who owns a record seven Late Model track championships, said that when Carver decided to drop the Sportsman Division, which featured regional stars, from the weekly rotation in favor of the more locally oriented Late Models, some protested.
"He was a good person, but he could be a tough promoter," Warren said. "He felt the Sportsman car count was too low, so he had the foresight to make the big change to the Late Models that proved to be right in the end.
"He knew how to keep cars and fans at the track."
Elton Sawyer became the first driver to win three consecutive Late Models at the track during Carver's tenure in the early-1980s. He moved on to a long career in the Nationwide Series before becoming a competition director on the Sprint Cup level.
"Without a doubt, he was one of the best promoters ever," Sawyer said of Carver, whose long post-Langley career included PR work for NASCAR race teams. "He influenced my career a great deal by teaching me about the marketing side of the sport.
"I'll be forever indebted to him and his family. It's sad news to hear that he died."