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Goin' to Drag City: Blaney Drag Strip
Goin' to Drag City: Blaney Drag Strip
by David R. Burlington
In November of 1963, Jan and Dean had a big hit with their song Drag City. To kids growing up in South Carolina in the 1960's, their Drag City was Blaney Drag Strip in Elgin, SC. When I first attended Blaney in the late summer of 1969, it had long been a going concern and was the only quarter mile NHRA-sanctioned strip in South Carolina. Blaney was a modest affair, no different from most drag venues of that era. However, it was a mecca for me. Fans of Georgia drag racing may be interested in Blaney, because many famous Peach State racers added their fame to Blaney's history. In addition to hosting one of NHRA Div. Two's WCS points races, the track featured the annual year-end Dixie Finals and many great match races in its heyday.
Knowing that the strip had long since shut its gates for good, I wondered whatever happened to the old quarter mile and whether anything remained. On a recent visit to the site, I was pleasantly surprised to see that portions of the strip and pits were still very recognizable to anyone who knew what to look for. However, a more amazing discovery was that the mobile home park now occupying the old site had drag racing-related street names! Names such as Liberman Lane, Platt Drive, Ivo Circle, and Garlits Drive abound on neighborhood street signs. It was really something to see those street names neatly lettered on the residents' mailboxes. I had to wonder whether the folks living there had any idea where the street names came from or just how famous their namesakes were in drag racing history.
Fortunately, there were enough common areas in the mobile home park to allow me to walk around and recognize many old paved patches of pit space. I saw a large asphalt patch close to an large old tree I remembered. It brought back a vivid memory of seeing Pete Robinson's 427 cammer Ford rail pitted under that tree one night circa 1969. He was struggling to re-assemble a C-6 transmission but still had time for a friendly "hello" to a somewhat over-awed 15 year old.
Although the bleachers were gone, the earthen berms that they sat on were still there. The actual paved strip surface was mostly gone, but it was still very level and flat. This, combined with the raised earthen berms already mentioned, gave you the distinct impression of a strip surface with grandstands on each side.
Another odd aspect was that the fence surrounding the track was still standing. The gated entrance leading to the pits still exists and now serves as the main gate leading into the mobile home park. All that was missing at the gate was the old wooden ticket-taker's booth. It was here that fans were encouraged to buy a pit pass to rub elbows with their heroes.
For a rural southern strip, Blaney offered real variety for the spectator. No doubt it helped that it was a sanctioned NHRA strip and that Buster Couch visited at least once a year to put on the WCS points race. Various cars that the author saw over the years included Garlits (many times) [Don Garlits], Jungle Jim's 1969 blue Nova funny [Jim Liberman], Leong's Hawaiian AA/FC, Shirl Greer, Clayton Harris, the Atlanta Speed Shop Barracuda, Hubert Platt, Sox and Martin, Connie Kalitta, Bill Flynn's Yankee Peddler, the Trojan Horse, and many more. Match races between Grumpy Jenkins, Sox and Martin, and Dyno Don [Don Nicholson] were common. One regular competitor at Blaney was the Powell and Burnett dragster from Charleston, SC. It was a beautiful red metalflake Woody Gilmore-chassied top fueler with a rat motor instead of the usual hemi. As late as the mid-1970's, Powell and Burnett were still faithfully sticking with the Chevy for power.
As far as the author can determine, the strip was owned and operated at first by the Ed Smith family of Columbia, SC. Blaney was always neat and clean, with reputable Chrondeks and a good track announcer. Though Blaney was a long strip, I well remember the announcer's chatter about the shutdown area; he noted that there was a lengthy shutdown area, followed by tons of soft sand in the sandtrap. After that, he said, there was a hundred acres of "soft pine trees" if an errant car was still going. One day, Floridian Lou Azar's unique AMC Gremlin-bodied funny car whistled through the traps at about 200 mph. That was an excellent time for those days, especially for the very unaerodynamic Gremlin. Unfortunately, the parachutes were very late in coming out. Lou somehow managed to get the car stopped but strip officials later related that they had to practically pry Azar's hands off the wheel.
Some time later, Johnny Dowey of the Columbia area bought the strip and managed it. Dowey was an active racer, with a series of Home Wrecker Camaro pro stockers. As I remember, Dowey was in the construction business and did a fine job of running the track. Although this writer does not know the exact date that Blaney closed, it lasted at least until the late 70's or early 80's.
Unfortunately, old drag strips are closed and bulldozed or even turned into mobile home parks, but memories linger. Compared to the legendary Lions Drag Strip, Blaney was surely small-time. However, as long as there are those who remember rosin being sprinkled on the strip for Ronnie Sox, or of two front-engined nitro burners being push-started downstrip for the first round of top fuel, Blaney Drag Strip will always live in the vivid world of memory.