Of the four major regions showcased in this book, the South is arguably packed with the most creative minds in the drag racing world. Granted, being creative doesn’t always equal success, but it makes for an interesting experience—the Southern folks always put on a great show. This ingenuity was evident in the cars that raced in the South, as well as the tracks they raced on, thanks to the mountainous landscape in most areas. Simple solutions were created to overcome landscape issues, and if you had a bulldozer and access to an asphalt company, you could be in the business of drag racing. Fancy towers, high-tech timing equipment, and up-to-date safety features weren’t on the radar for Southern track owners and racers quite yet, so the homegrown atmosphere was in full effect.
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Although lots of small tracks gave Southerners plenty of places to race, many larger tracks were scattered in more populated areas, such as Dallas, Memphis, Atlanta, and other big cities. The larger tracks held national events for one of the bigthree sanctioning bodies (NHRA, AHRA, or IHRA) while the smaller tracks held weekly racing events that kept racers and spectators intrigued. Obviously, the big events paid more to win, but you can bet those small events drew a consistent crowd in the heyday of the sport.
However, the South wasn’t immune to the harsh economy that hit the rest of the country in the late 1970s. That economy caused a general lack of interest in drag racing, which caused a ripple effect in the industry. The difference between the South and some of the other regions is that heightened safety precautions and insurance regulations had already put an end to many drag strips before the poor economy could cause a problem.
The South was once known for its outlaw tracks and the exciting racing it produced. The tracks had minimal safety equipment and a “no rules” attitude for spectators, so the level of danger was part of the fun. Brave spectators watched the racing action from a very close vantage point and the racers dealt with poor track conditions on a regular basis—two conditions that do not mix well.
The turning point for Southern tracks came in the late 1960s, as the cars began outgrowing the race tracks, which led to numerous crashes and injuries. The growing number of crashes and the accompanying rules and regulations caused many tracks to close their gates forever.
The First of Several
Drag racing has an exceptional record when it comes to spectator safety, which is especially remarkable considering the wild nature of racing in the 1950s and 1960s. Class evolution and innovation made for unpredictable moments, so the likelihood of tragic accidents was rather high. One of the first accidents that sparked some debate on the safety of drag strips and race cars occurred at Southeastern International Dragway, a quarter-mile drag strip in Dallas, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. The track was a great facility at the time, but nothing could prepare it for a freak accident.
Part of what makes this example so memorable is the racer involved. It was none other than NASCAR legend Richard Petty. He’s always been known for his blue number 43 round-track vehicles, but he did try his hand at drag racing for a short time.
The reason for his dabbling in drag racing is quite simple. When NASCAR banned the Hemi (and the Ford overhead cam engine) at the end of the 1964 season, Petty decided to boycott the series. Some Mopar racers moved to the USAC racing series, but Petty chose drag racing to fill his racing void and support the folks at Mopar for building such an incredible engine. He and his crew built a 1964 Plymouth Barracuda, and fit it with a 426-ci Hemi engine. The car wore the fitting name of Outlawed and even had lettering on the back that said, “NASCAR: If you can’t outrun ’em, outlaw ’em.”
Richard Petty’s Barracuda wasn’t built to fi t a particular class such as Super Stock. It was mainly used for match races, which garnered way more attention, and offered much more excitement for the spectators. He wasted little time getting the Barracuda on the ground; February 28, 1965, proved to be a tough day for “The King.”
Petty had organized a best-of-three match race with Arnie Beswick, another icon of the era. During one of the passes, Petty’s car broke a component in the suspension, sending it off course. With no chance of saving it, Petty tried to bring the car to a halt, but it climbed an embankment and blasted through a fence before coming to rest. The fence was lined with spectators, meaning the out-of-control Barracuda struck several people before Petty could get it stopped.
Many were injured and an eight-year-old boy was killed in the accident, leaving Petty, his crew, and of course the child’s entire family devastated. The car was parked in the woods behind the Petty shop, where it was eventually buried. Petty does not like to speak of the accident, but he did continue to race afterward in a new Barracuda.
Midway through the 1965 season, NASCAR’s Bill France dropped the ban on Hemi engines, so Petty’s drag racing career went by the wayside when he got back into the swing of the stock car circuit.
Petty’s time behind the wheel of a drag car may have been short, but he learned a very hard lesson. He drew huge crowds, and put on a great show, but his accident certainly put the dangers of drag racing into perspective. Unfortunately, it took a much larger incident to impact the sport in such a manner that it had no choice but to change.
The Final Straw
Without question, injuries and deaths were not uncommon in drag racing during the 1950 and 1960s. Crashes were fairly common and mechanical breakage seemed normal.
It was nearly two decades into the sport’s legitimized era before tragedy struck in such a manner that forced everyone to take notice.
The venue was Yellow River Drag Strip in Covington, Georgia. Widely known in the Atlanta area as a premier outlaw track, Yellow River had limited safety features, but drew enormous crowds with big-time Funny Car events. Spectators were allowed to roam freely around the facility, sometimes crossing the track on foot between passes. The guardrails at Yellow River were a poor excuse for safety equipment, and they did not extend to the finish line, where containing the vehicle is most crucial. After the 1,000-foot mark, the only thing separating the 200-mph cars from the spectators was an embankment and a hog-wire fence. The lack of guardrails wasn’t uncommon at the time, but the fact that the spectators were in such close proximity to the racing surface made it a very treacherous facility.
A fatal crash on March 2, 1969, changed drag racing as we knew it. The day’s activities included the regular drag racing program, with the addition of a Funny Car meet. At the time, funny cars were extremely popular, mainly because of the wheelstands, 1,000-foot burnouts, and what seemed to be out-of-control passes down the quarter-mile. This excitement created a sizeable crowd at Yellow River Drag Strip early in the 1969 racing season.
During the event, the track’s announcer made an attempt to move the crowds away from the fence, but the thrill of being close to the action was a risk the spectators were willing to take. Fans climbed into the trees surrounding the track to get a better view of the action—the place was packed.
Pulling up to the line was Frank Oglesby, driving “Dyno” Don Nicholson’s Mercury Cougar, and Huston Platt, piloting the Dixie Twister Camaro. Both cars were very popular nitro-burning funny cars, and the crowd prepared for a great side-by-side pass. Eyes watering from the intense nitro fumes, the spectators close to the start line covered their ears as the cars blasted off the line and down the narrow quarter-mile drag strip. The next thing they heard were horrific screams, as Platt’s Camaro careened off the track near the finish line.
It is reported that Platt lost traction on the unprepared racing surface, and then heard his engine let out a loud explosion, so he instantly shut it down and deployed the parachute to help straighten out the car. What Platt didn’t realize was that a spectator had reportedly bent over to pick up his beer just a few feet from the track. The spectator was so close to the track, the Camaro’s parachute literally scooped him up, killing him on impact. The additional weight of the man inside the parachute caused Platt’s already vulnerable car to veer to the right, off the racing surface and up an embankment before colliding with numerous spectators.
Platt sustained very minimal injuries in the terrible crash, but a total of twelve spectators lost their lives, making this the worst drag racing accident ever recorded in the United States. More than forty spectators were injured, and Platt was later treated for shock, as the reality of the incident set in.
Many accounts of the accident reveal the panic that struck the entire crowd, especially those who had a clear vantage point. The rescue and cleanup efforts were very timeconsuming, and many of the spectators left the track in awe of the crash that had taken place. Authorities and track personnel struggled to keep it orderly, encouraging the decision to call off the race and send everyone home. Yellow River Drag Strip was never opened again.
That day scarred the memories of many children and adults in attendance, and it certainly placed a heavy burden on the heart of Huston Platt. Although he continued racing for a couple more seasons after the crash, Platt realized his racing career would not be remembered for his many victories—it would be remembered for the crash at Yellow River. Obviously, he never enjoyed recalling that day, but he admitted that it made for safer racing. Huston Platt, still a resident of Georgia, passed away on November 30, 2011, at the age of 79.
Government officials, as well as a number of leaders in the racing industry knew something had to change to prevent this from happening again. Jim Kaser, director of professional competition for the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) stated, “The accident further emphasizes that operations outside the framework of organized racing are dangerous and should be stopped.” Unsanctioned drag strips were soon under serious scrutiny, meaning they were required to uphold safety standards similar to the NHRA- and AHRA-sanctioned tracks of the era. Some tracks were shortened in an effort to make them safer, and many were closed for good because of the unfortunate accident in Covington, Georgia.
LAKELAND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY.
During the drag racing boom in the 1950s, gearheads looked for places to race, and found their answers on abandoned airfields leftover from the war. Countless makeshift drag strips were scattered across the country, and a particular airfield kick-started the drag racing scene in the Western portion of Tennessee. Located in Halls, Tennessee, the airfield operated as a drag strip as early as 1955, thanks to the determination of Raymond Godman. A young car guy, Godman became an NHRA Advisor soon after organizing his first race in Halls, and then developed a plan to build a brand-new drag strip closer to Memphis, in the small town of Lakeland, Tennessee.
After a two-year construction process, Lake Land Dragway was opened on July 4, 1960. Much like other drag strips in the area at the time, it was considered state-of-the-art and drew incredible crowds. Godman built and operated the Lake Land track, which eventually used names such as Lakeland International Raceway and Shelby County International Raceway. The reason for the name changes was due to changes in ownership and operations, as the track passed through a few hands during its eighteen-year history. Other big names to operate the track include Bill Taylor, who later made a name for himself in the transmission and torque converter industry—you may have heard of BTE, which stands for Bill Taylor Enterprises.
The 128-acre piece of property offered lots of space for quarter-mile racing, with plenty of room to get stopped. Many national points meets were held at the Lakeland facility during its run, with sanctioning coming from all three of the major organizations throughout the years—NHRA, AHRA, and IHRA.
By the late 1960s, Bill Taylor was at the helm of this Memphis-area drag strip, which was in the process of being transformed into a full racing facility, complete with a 1.7-mile road course. Obviously, with only 1.7 miles of real estate on the course, a large portion of it was used for the very long straightaway, so it was a fairly simple layout. By June 1969, the road course was ready for action, and saw its first major event, called the Memphis 200, sanctioned by USAC, a heavy hitter in the stock car industry.
During this time as a multi-race facility, the track’s name was changed to Shelby County International Raceway, but eventually switched back to Lakeland International Raceway. A major milestone for the track was its inclusion in the unforgettable 1971 film, Two-Lane Blacktop. This movie is an iconic piece of history for Lakeland, and it plays a large role in people’s interest in abandoned drag strips.
For most tracks, the poor economy and lack of interest was enough to force them into retirement, but for Lakeland, that wasn’t the case. Even with a shrinking number of racers and spectators, the track trudged on, until the end of the 1978 season, when the owners of a newly developed factory outlet mall terminated the lease. The mall’s location was very close to the race track, and there was little to be done to save the track.
For the next few decades the property remained mostly intact, including the walking bridge behind the starting line. The concrete barriers and racing surface remained for quite some time, and even wore the painted-on sponsor logos until the day they were dug up and taken away. The property faced certain death with the city’s plans to develop the land near the outlet mall, turning it into a residential area. The intense overgrowth eventually changed the landscape of the facility and major changes to the property, but the memories are strong enough to keep Memphis racers in a state of nostalgia anytime they’re in the area.
GREEN VALLEY RACEWAY
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and in the world of drag racing, this was a very accurate statement. Obviously, the West Coast had a good thing going, but Texas was a major hotspot for drag racing during the 1960s. Legendary racers such as Eddie Hill saw the beginning of Texas drag racing, and they also saw it dwindle as the years rolled on.
There’s something to be said for a flagship track and its impact on the drag racing community. For the AHRA, its flagship track in the South was Green Valley Raceway, host of some of the biggest races of the year, with giant turnouts that rivaled those of West Coast tracks. The track never had a sparkling reputation for cleanliness or racer comfort, but it never failed to bring in thousands of folks to watch the racing action.
In the beginning, Green Valley Raceway was nothing more than a dairy farm owned by Bill and Dorothy McClure. After taking a fl at piece of ground and converting it into a drag strip, the McClures had themselves quite the attraction in the small town of Smithfield, Texas. This purpose-built track opened for business in April 1960, which was during the NHRA’s ban on nitromethane fuel, so McClure opted for AHRA sanctioning, which meant that the nitro cars could compete on his quarter-mile track. This approach made Green Valley Raceway a popular destination for southern racers, and it was especially appealing to spectators, who could expect to see several high-level events each year.
In the heyday of Green Valley Raceway, it was run by renowned track operator Ben Christ, who was a big player in the AHRA. This connection to the AHRA and Christ’s vast knowledge of marketing made Green Valley the place to be for drag racing. Even when the NHRA lifted the nitro ban, the AHRA had a strong following of racers so the track continued to prosper into the 1960s. By the mid 1960s, the track had blossomed into a full-blown raceway park, with a 1.6-mile road course that used the entire drag strip as the straightaway. Popular road racing organizations, such as the SCCA and its vaunted Trans-Am series, ran at Green Valley. After a few races, the creek that ran through the track’s property became known as “Mustang Creek,” after a crash left a race-prepped Mustang in the drink. The bridge that covered the creek was still intact a few years ago, but the area is no longer part of the property.
The track changed hands in 1965, as the McClures moved on to continue with their dairy farm, which was located near the top end of the drag strip. Green Valley continued to operate under AHRA sanctioning, while new ownership brought a few changes to the track. The new owner was Bill Hielscher, a well-known racer who was also known as “Mr. Bardahl” as he was heavily sponsored by the Bardahl Company. Hielscher’s extensive racing background provided a great management strategy throughout his years at the helm.
Even with the change in ownership and management, the track continued to host the biggest national event of the year for the AHRA. Special-event planning made a big impact on the track, with unique events such as an Evel Knievel jump in 1974, which saw the famous daredevil jump eleven Mack trucks on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This spectacular event was covered by ABC’s Wide World of Sports, giving the track a bit of national notoriety that it normally wouldn’t have received.
After several more years with lots of big events under the AHRA sanction, Hielscher switched to NHRA sanctioning in 1977. Eventually, he renamed the track Green Valley Race City but for most folks, the drag strip is remembered as Green Valley Raceway or simply “the Valley.” While NHRA Division 4 races were held at Green Valley in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the track had lost some of its momentum, like so many tracks during the era. However, it survived the toughest times and made it to 1986, when the track finally shut down for good. At the time of closure, the facility had certainly seen better days, and the growing population of the North Richland Hills area contributed to the situation.
During the years after closing the track Hielscher ran Amarillo Dragway for a short time, and then bought Texas Raceway in Kennedale, Texas. He passed away several years ago, leaving his daughter to run the race track. Even after its closure, Green Valley remained mostly intact for several years. The buildings remained in place, as did the racing surface, but the grandstands, sound system, and other usable items were repurposed. The track was later used as a testing area for “toll tags,” which are currently in use in the Dallas area.
By the late 1990s, surrounding neighborhoods grew closer and closer to the abandoned race track, and developers overtook the land completely by 2005. Clearing the land of all its artifacts and completely changing the layout of the area meant that old-time racers may not even recognize the grounds when passing through, as roads have been re-routed to cater to the community. A small portion of the shutdown area pavement, however, remains on an untouched part of the property, so a small sliver of the track’s twenty-five-year history lives on in this hallowed ground. With houses scattered across the land that was once an AHRA flagship track, there’s very little remaining of one of the most famous drag strips in the South.
DALLAS INTERNATIONAL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
In the heyday of drag racing, hometown tracks were the norm, even for big-time racers. However, by the late 1960s, it had become apparent that this drag racing thing was a profi table market, so land developers and investors began sinking more money into drag strip construction. This resulted in several high-level tracks that catered to very large national events. One of these purpose-built tracks was Dallas International Motor Speedway (DIMS), with its high-tech construction and multi-use capabilities. It opened in 1969 with high hopes of becoming one of the nation’s top tracks right off the bat.
While it did have a big turnout for the NHRA Spring Nationals (its first major event), tragedy struck on that day. Funny Car eliminations saw Pat Foster go head-to-head with Gerry Schwartz in round one, but a horrific crash put a damper on the day’s competition. Foster spun the tires down track, and crossed the centerline, where Schwartz was barreling ahead in his Chevy-powered Cougar. While Foster took a hard hit, it was Schwartz who suffered severe injuries, which claimed his life before arriving at the hospital. This crash was a bad way to start the track’s short-lived career, and things didn’t get any better.
With big plans for the 1970 season, the DIMS crew had been awarded two of the four NHRA national events, as well as an SCCA Trans-Am series race, scheduled for late April. Although lots of planning gave the crew motivation early in the year, success just wasn’t meant to be for this Texas track. Torrential downpours halted a number of events, including the Trans-Am race, to be held on the 2½-mile road course. Unfortunately, Trans-Am never rescheduled the event.
During all the rain, the property suffered flood damage, and with each weekend that went by without a major event, the financial burden became more of an issue. Making matters even worse, the property’s neighbors began complaining, which resulted in a track curfew of 10:00 pm. All of these factors played major roles in the track’s demise, but the bad news doesn’t stop there.
Even with all of these unfortunate events, the track management pressed on and hoped to bring renewed success. The decision was made to switch sanctioning bodies for the 1971 season, so DIMS converted its operations to the IHRA rulebook, looking for a better deal. The NHRA’s requirement was 50 percent of the gate, while IHRA sanctioning required only a 25-percent cut, so track management had chosen to change sanctioning bodies in an effort to save every dollar they could. Try as they might, though, the money situation didn’t seem to improve over the next two years of operation.
Another tragic event occurred in October 1971 as Gene Thomas, a Dallas news reporter, spent the day at DIMS doing a story on the track. He strapped into Art Arfons’ Super Cyclops jet car, which was equipped with two seats. A brave man to even think about going for a ride in this 280-mph jet car, Thomas was involved in a crash that claimed his life, as well as the lives of two spectators. Arfons, the legendary jet-car racer, retired from drag racing after the horrific incident.
After only a few years of operation, Dallas International Motor Speedway closed its doors. Financial trouble and an unbelievable string of bad luck spelled major trouble for the high-dollar drag strip, and 1973 marked the end of its very short life. After its closure, the property sat unused for many years. It was later sold to land developers and restructured into a large retail complex, which completely masked the fact that the track ever existed.
The demise of this track was caused by several factors, but the expansion of the Dallas area would’ve been troublesome to the track regardless of its accident record. Now, racers can only think back to the times when DIMS was a strong force in the Dallas area, and wonder how it all would’ve shaken out if luck had been on its side.
HUDSON DRAG STRIP
North Carolina is known for its mountainous terrain, so finding a fl at piece of land proved to be quite difficult for drag strip entrepreneurs in the late 1950s. A strip of land was carved out of a hillside to create enough level real estate to hold a drag race, but the rest of the land had some unique characteristics because of the hilly landscape. Hudson Drag Strip is a prime example of a drag strip that was built in an area that honestly didn’t have enough room for a drag strip. It was built and owned by George Shell on a piece of property that was anything but fl at.
Shell moved enough dirt to create a fl at racing surface and opened Hudson Drag Strip in June 1959. It was originally a dirt drag strip, which was actually quite common in North Carolina, but it was paved only a few months after its grand opening. The response to this new drag strip was huge, so a continuing effort to improve the facility kept Shell quite busy. He had help from locals Earl Shell, Jay McLean, and Clem Sullivan in the early days, and was committed to being open every Sunday of the year, weather permitting.
Cars came from all around to race at Hudson, sometimes from the mountains with snow still on their vehicles. Coffee was a popular item at the concession stand during those harsh winter months. However, being open every weekend had advantages when it came to racer and spectator awareness— they didn’t have to ask around to find out if Hudson was open because of the track’s reputation for year-round racing.
Many drag strips built in the 1950s and 1960s had uphill shutdown areas, but Hudson took the cake with what was essentially a mountainside for a shutdown area. The steep grade was great for the extremely fast cars, because it took a lot of effort to run off the end of the track. The hilly landscape also played into the spectator seating, as the land to the right side of the track was much higher than on the left side. Spectators could look down on the action from the right side, while the pit side (left) was actually lower than the track.
While most tracks had poor restroom facilities and concessions, Hudson Drag Strip had a fairly nice setup. The word on the street is that Hudson hot dogs were mighty good. After the good ol’ days of gassers, altereds, and super stockers had passed, the track became a hotspot for Pro Stock racing. In the early 1970s, the track was leased by Tom Ferrell, who continued to operate the track for seven years. During that time, dedicated Pro Stock meets were popular events, so Ferrell held these heads-up races to keep up with demand.
When Ferrell didn’t renew his lease for the 1980 season, the track sat unused for a year. Still, it wasn’t a fearful time for the North Carolina racers, even though many big tracks were closing their doors forever. Hudson Drag Strip came back in 1981 with new ownership and big plans to renovate the track. By the 1983 racing season, concrete had been poured for a brand-new starting-line area, which greatly increased traction and offered a solid foundation that held up to lots of abuse.
These improvements came at a time when pro stock cars were really pushing the limits of the rulebooks, which forced many racers into match races when they could no longer pass tech for the class. Super-lightweight cars with big-displacement mountain engines became the norm for those outlaw pro stock cars, and the high demand for quicker and faster doorslammers created a new class in drag racing. Today, we call it Pro Modified (Pro Mod), but back then it was just all-out headsup racing, and as long as the car had functioning doors, it was okay to race.
The heyday of Pro Mod was most certainly the 1980s and early 1990s, as wild car designs made them fan favorites in the pits, while the wild rides and crazy driving jobs offered plenty of excitement on the track. Hudson was a hotspot for Pro Mod racing, which is fitting because the entire state of North Carolina had a big following for the class.
As the years roll on, the class has evolved tremendously, with cars that are unbelievably fast, but lack the individual personality that 1990s-era Pro Mods were known for. Back then, a nitrous purge and a few good dry hops brought a crowd to its feet, then left them amazed when the driver zinged the engine, popped the clutch, and pulled those Lenco levers like there was no tomorrow.
Hudson Drag Strip eventually met its demise in 1994 when a property disagreement finally reached its boiling point. The heated family feud resulted in a small portion of the property not being leased by its owner. This made it impossible for the track to run, so at the end of the 1994 season, Hudson Drag Strip closed its doors, never to reopen again.
The owners simply left the track as it was on the final day. No upkeep, no demolition, and no action has resulted in a very somber reminder of a historic Southern race track. The bleachers, restrooms, buildings, and fences are still in place, but badly damaged by the lack of attention.
The strip of pavement is in surprisingly good shape after all these years, but the buildings are barely able to hold their own weight. With widespread overgrowth, weeds and trees are abundant, but it’s painfully obvious that this place was once a hotbed for drag racing, right up to its final event in 1994. While it never had the celebrity status of the West Coast’s super tracks, it certainly put a fire under thousands of North Carolina racers and fans after nearly four decades of operation. There is no hope in bringing back Hudson Drag Strip, but its remains stand as a memorial to the good times had at one of the hilliest drag strips in America.
Shuffl etown Dragway is one of many abandoned race tracks in the Southeast that happens to be placed in one of the most racing-oriented cities in America—Charlotte, North Carolina. There are many interesting things in the history of Shuffletown, including the community it was named after and the track’s thirty-three-year timeline. Shuffletown, slightly northwest of Charlotte, was a small community of farmers. The entire town consisted of a country store, a couple of gas stations, and a river ferry—but no longer exists.
The Shuffletown area definitely had character, and a drag strip only added to the small-town fl avor, especially during the first few years of operation. The idea to build a drag strip was a ploy by the Charlotte Police Department to get hot rodders off the streets, giving them a legal place to race. The drag strip needed to be easily accessible from Charlotte, but not placed too close to town or suburban areas, which made Shuffletown the perfect location.
The plot of land was located near a creek, so it was already fairly level, and by 1959 the land had a clean straightaway of packed dirt. Racing began that year on the dirt strip, which offered plenty of excitement, even for stock street cars of the era. The loose surface presented quite the challenge, but Shuffl etown Dragway remained in its all-dirt configuration until 1964.
Charlotte was already a hotspot for round-track racing by 1964, and the reconfiguration of Shuffl etown Dragway drew even larger crowds of racers and spectators. The track was originally run as a fifth-mile track (1,056 feet), but even with this shorter-than-standard racing distance, it suffered from a short shutdown area. Many top-end crashes and near misses were a result of the abbreviated shutdown length, which eventually led to a creek. As the years passed, cars continued to get faster, so the track was shortened to an eighth mile (660 feet) to provide a few hundred more feet of shutdown area.
Lots of big doorslammer races were held at Shuffletown during the mid to late 1960s, and it was home to a huge match race in 1969 between legends Don Garlits and “TV Tommy” Ivo. Another highlight from 1969 is when “Ohio George” Montgomery came to Shuffletown with his twin turbo Boss Mustang. The car was way ahead of its time, and proved to be too powerful for the racing surface, as the Mustang veered out of control and crashed badly. George escaped the crash without serious injury, as did many others. Reportedly, Shuffletown Dragway never had a fatal accident in all of its years of competition, which is something few drag strips can claim.
One interesting aspect of Shuffletown Dragway is that it advertised drag racing fi fty-two weeks a year in the 1970s. The weather had to be very poor for management to cancel a race day, so it was a great place to test during the winter months.
The extra shutdown area came in quite handy in the 1980s, as Shuffletown became a popular destination for Pro Modified racing. These very powerful doorslammers were always on the ragged edge, and getting them stopped was just as difficult; racers pulled their parachutes as they passed the first MPH cone (66 feet away from the actual finish line) so they could be fully blossomed just past the stripe.
This new class of cars offered close racing and wild action, and it all started because of a few outlaw doorslammers from the South. Charles Carpenter in his “world’s fastest 1955 Chevy” faced off against Jim Bryant’s “world’s fastest 1957 Chevy” in numerous match races across the country. These wild cars created quite a stir in the industry, and by 1989, Pro Mod was an official class in the IHRA. Many say that Pro Modified racing started at Shuffletown because it was Pro Mod pioneer Charles Carpenter’s home track.
Shuffletown had a great following of drag racers and spectators, as it was a sister track to nearby Mooresville Dragway, which ran on Saturday nights. Shuffletown ran on Sunday, so racers could compete at both tracks on the same weekend. Mooresville Dragway is still in operation and holds a Shuffletown tribute race every year.
When Shuffletown Dragway’s time came to an end, it wasn’t because of low attendance. It was because of noise ordinances, which were enforced when the Shuffletown community was annexed into the city of Charlotte in the early 1990s. The track closed in 1992, and sat vacant for many years until a new park was built on part of the track’s property. The new Shuffletown Park is a great place for car guys to visit because the remains of Shuffletown Dragway are within walking distance, and there are no posted signs to keep folks off the property. Not much remains of the historic North Carolina track, but it’s easy to imagine the good ol’ days of this strip just by walking the badly weathered remnants.
Written by Tommy Lee Byrd and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks
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