Bowman Gray Stadium – Winston-Salem State Rams
Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Bowman Gray Stadium 1250 S Martin Luther King Jr Winston-Salem, NC 27107
Year Opened: 1937
Racetrack Plus Football Equals Bowman Gray
Unique among college football stadiums, Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina has a NASCAR-sanctioned asphalt quarter-mile short track surrounding the field itself; while many football venues have a running track around them, especially in this state, few if any have a real racetrack around them. The racetrack is still used for stock car racing and the facility was even featured in a racing-themed TV show on Discovery Channel. As for football, the stadium was also previously home to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, before BB&T Field opened in 1968; in fact, Brian Piccolo, 1964 ACC player of the year and subject of the 1971 film Brian’s Song, played his college football at Bowman Gray.
Bowman Gray Stadium has been the home of the Winston-Salem State Rams since 1956 and is scheduled for some big renovations starting next season (2020), including new restrooms and a track resurface. The stands are in the shape of a horseshoe with the press box on the west side, visitors seating on the east side, and an athletic center behind the north end zone. The stands hold 17,000 fans but there is additional standing room for several thousand more behind the wall at the top of the stands, where the concessions and bathrooms are located.
Food & Beverage 4
Bowman Gray Stadium has a great selection of food and beverages, including three main stands (one on each side) plus several other smaller stands and food trucks despite the small attendance, so lines are kept to a minimum. Prices are reasonable and the variety is pretty solid.
Food options include spicy and PDQ chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos with or without chili, pizza, fish and chips, chicken tender baskets, corn dogs, popcorn, peanuts, packaged candy, pork skins, pickles, funnel cake, sno cones, and Dippin’ Dots ice cream, while beverage choices include soda, bottled water, coffee, hot cocoa, lemonade, and orangeade. Nothing is over $7, and the venue even offers fountain soda refills for $2. The best item on the menu is definitely the PDQ chicken sandwich with its honey butter spread.
Usually at HBCUs the band is one of the biggest draws at a football game, and WSSU’s Red Sea of Sound here does fine, but the PA announcer is probably the star of the show – he uses a lot of voice inflections to keep the fans entertained and even razzes the refs on occasion (but in a subtle way so as to stay out of hot water with the league). Also, one of the traditions at Rams games is ‘pointing’ during kickoffs, so throughout the game you will hear the announcer say “we are pointing at Bowman Gray,” and if you don’t know which way to point you should “look at the football team” – that seems to be his main catchphrase.
Red Sea of Sound, Photo by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
One downside at Bowman Gray is that all the seats are metal bleaches without chair backs, which can be a little cold in November; you can rent or bring your own seat back, however, if you choose. Another downside is that the video board (which doesn’t show replays) is on the small side and is also well behind the south end zone, attached to the athletic center, so it is really hard to see especially if you sit on the north end, so you may want to sit close to it. On the plus side, however, you can sit wherever you want (most seats are general admission), and the concourse above the stands is open to the field, so you won’t miss any of the action if you go grab some food.
Bowman Gray Stadium is located within site of downtown Winston-Salem, which could be a plus, but there are also several freeway overpasses and merges around the venue, so it is not that easy to walk to anything nearby. The university is also located in what you probably wouldn’t consider one of the nicer areas in town.
A couple of recommended restaurants nearby (although they are on the other side of I-40 as I hinted above) are Mellow Mushroom and King’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar, and there are numerous other eateries in that part of town as well. There are also hotels in that area, such as Fairfield Inn & Suites or Hawthorne Inn & Conference Center, if you plan to be in town for the weekend. And if you are looking for something to do before or after the game, there is a Kaleideum Children’s Museum near Bowman Gray Stadium, as well as a NASCAR museum and a Moravian church which you can visit, as well as several other parks and museums.
WSSU doesn’t have very many fans at the game, probably only a couple of thousand at most, but you will see a good contingent of visiting fans, since most of their conference opponents are within a couple hour’s drive. That said the stadium will seem pretty empty most of the time, which is a little disappointing, but those who are there do tend to wear team gear and are pretty vocal in their support of the Rams; you can buy WSSU team gear at the stadium if you need it.
Bowman Gray Stadium is easy to get to, given the freeways around it, and you can park literally right outside the stadium for $15 – the parking lots on the north and east sides are technically closer to the stadium; if you park on the west side you have to walk up a slightly rickety ramp to get to the venue. But there are several entrances around Bowman Gray Stadium so getting in is easy; note that students enter on the east side.
Once you get inside the venue, moving around is easy and lines are short. There are many more bathrooms here than are needed to accommodate the crowd, and you can sit wherever you want, or stand and watch from the top of the concourse.
Return on Investment 4
Seeing a football stadium with a NASCAR track around it is pretty cool and the PA announcer makes your visit well worth the time. Tickets run $20 for adults (lower for kids, seniors, and students) which is average if not slightly on the high side for this level of football in the area. The $15 parking is probably a little on the high side comparatively, and there really isn’t an easy way to park and walk further because of the freeways, so you are probably stuck with that parking cost. However, concessions are reasonable for the quality and amount you get, so all in the return on investment is solid at Bowman Gray.
I mentioned the racetrack and the PA announcer, and the Brian Piccolo history, and the band also does a good job. I would also mention one architectural feature – the entrances into the stands have red (WSSU-themed) scrollwork arches over them with the section numbers, which is a nice aesthetic but also makes it easier to find your seat.
Scrollwork Arches, Photo by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
I definitely think it is worth visiting Bowman Gray Stadium for its history and ease of access. The Rams are not having great success on the field of late, but if they win a few more games that should bring a lot more fans to this unique and historic football venue.