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Back on the ghost-track trail

07 Nov 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Like haunted houses full of the spooky apparitions for which they are named, it seems that there's no exorcising the demand for ghost tracks at casa DRAGSTER Insider, so here we go again. If you don't already have it, download a copy of Google Earth so that you can play around. If you're not familiar with the free program, go to my Oct. 17 entry to see what it can do and how best to use it. It makes this whole ghost-track thing much more fun.

Okay, and away we go.

Marie Taney sent these two shots of Dover Drag Strip, which Chet Anderson and Joe Archiere built on 144 acres in Wingdale, N.Y. The track opened in the summer of 1961 and closed in 1976 and was one of a handful of East Coast strips that could draw big names such as Art Malone, who's pictured here making a run in his dragster.

"I am told Dover Drag Strip is a gravel pit now, but back in my early teens, it was a great place to spend a Sunday and not get into trouble," she recalled. "It was $1 to enter and $3 for a pit pass. Afterwards, the racers would go to Josey's Tavern on the Ten Mile River just down the road in Wingdale. I had forgotten all about the place until last summer I was visiting a friend in LA, and he suggested the NHRA museum in Pomona. It brought back a flood of memories reading my brother's Car Craft and Hot Rod magazines."

A couple of really good sites are dedicated to Dover. There's a ton of info here at a site run by former track announcer and PR director Dean "Dino" Lawrence. According to the site, the track was sanctioned by NHRA for just one year, but a "precarious drop off the left side of the shutdown area and inadequate guardrails wouldn’t meet NHRA insurance standards." There's also this page on another site that has a great gallery of old cars competing at the track.

Here are the coordinates for the starting line, supplied by our friends at the TerraTracks Global Authority: 41.645960, -73.582969. Enter them in your Google Earth FlyTo box. Not much to see anymore, maybe just some of the old shutdown area.

 

Staying with the Empire State, we turn our attention to Westhampton Dragstrip, which opened in 1953 as a dirt dragstrip on eastern Long Island and was paved two years later. The track survived for more than 50 years under a variety of names, including Westhampton Raceway (1953-1971), Suffolk County Raceway (1971-1972), Hampton Raceway (1980s), Long Island Dragway (1991-1996), and finally Long IslandMotorsportsPark (1996-2004). Gary Goetz remembers going to Westhampton as a kid in 1957 or 1958 with his brother when it resembled nothing more than a sandlot with little grass, an open timing shack six feet off the ground, and a flagman. He recalled watching the Highwaymen in a chopped '39 Chevy altered and Forean Kustoms in a chopped altered Crosby run the quarter. "Hiding in the trunk and sneaking in, being able to stand at the end of the quarter as close to the cars as your common sense allowed … the simplicity, the memories that can't be duplicated," he added wistfully.

Westhampton became a housing development called Westhampton Pines. I found an aerial photo of the track before it disappeared using Microsoft TerraServer images, which can be seen below left. If you use Google Earth and enter 40.827466, -72.684776, you can see how it looks today. I'm pretty sure that's the starting line that is still pretty visible, and if you have your Roads button (in the bottom left corner of Google Earth) checked, you can see that at least there's a street that runs into the development off Old Country Road called Drag Street. Nice!

 

Alan Ridenoure used to race at Warner Robins in Warner Robins, Ga., when he was a kid but says that the site of the strip is now a high school and that the starting line is the eastern end zone of the football stadium. Looking at this Google Earth image (which was shot from space Oct. 23, 2006, more than two years ago), I see the school but not the stadium. I remember Warner-Robins because in the weekly reports we received here at ND, it always looked as if there were a median of grass between the two lanes, and looking at these images, you can clearly see two lanes separated by something. I'm not sure if the track ran west-east, but the TerraTracks Global Authority lists the starting line here: 32.550154, -83.681147. It almost looks as if Bear County Boulevard was built and bisected the track just a tenth of a mile from the starting line and that the track (which was an eighth-mile facility) continues on as an unnamed street beyond that. Weird.

There's a surprising lack of good information about the track on the Web, even though I know the track has not been gone long. The track held an NHRA Division 2 event for years, and looking back through old issues of National DRAGSTER, I see that it dropped off the roll of member tracks in 1996, but I'm not sure if that's when it died or if it changed sanctions.

Also from the PeachState, Richard McFalls sent a link to a great site that he built dedicated to Double H Drag Strip, which opened Nov. 17, 1963, in Blue Ridge, Ga., and ran through 1966, hosting Super Stockers and A/FXers. You can find it here. "I knew of it only through occasional newspaper articles but became more interested in its history last year," he wrote. "I made inquiries and hit the jackpot with some of my contacts, which led to the creation earlier this year of the Web site."

The site has a lot of old photos and some shots of the track as it currently sits; it is now an airstrip for a fly-in residential community. The site also has a Google Earth image of the track (no coordinates), but after a couple of minutes of exploring my map for similar features, I found it here: 34.854499, -84.383469. That's how it looks in the lower right picture, and from ground level at lower left are two of the great shots from the track site. The white building at the end of the track -- which other than extensions at both ends, remains unchanged after 40 years -- is a hangar.

There are a ton of old newspaper articles on the site -- Double H Drag Strip co-founder Bill Hembree wrote a weekly article for the local newspaper, the McCaysville, Ga., Citizen --- great old photos, and links to some cool videos. I particularly like the movie at right, in which a guy strapped his video camera to the front bumper of his car and drove down the old track in September 2007. Neat! (But I'm not too sure I'd like to try to land an airplane there.)

And on to yet another great Georgia facility of the past: Augusta Int'l Raceway, which featured not just a quarter-mile dragstrip but also a three-mile banked road course, half-mile paved oval, eighth-mile "micro track," motocross track, and kart track. The facility in Hephzibah, Ga., about 15 miles southwest of Augusta, was used from 1963 to 1969. The land is now part of DiamondLakesRegionalPark, where there is a large granite monument to the raceway. Here are the Google Earth coordinates for the dragstrip starting line: 33.357868, -82.092237. The Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society has a Web site (www.historicmustang.com/speedway.html) with lots of old photos and maps.

 

Okay, jump into your Google flying machine, and let's head to Mississippi and Biloxi Dragway. Mark Follweiler remembers well his first trip to the drags, at age 7. "My first trip to the races was 1967. My dad had passed away the year before, and my mom thought it would be a good idea for me to see the drags. We lived about five miles from the old Biloxi dragstrip, so one Sunday afternoon she could hear them running, and we got in the car and headed to the track. I remember sitting on the roof of our '64 impala wagon watching these wonderful machines go down the strip! Needless to say, I have been a lifelong drag racer/fan. My family and I race locally and travel to three to four national events a year. You can still see the two strips of the old Biloxi track from Highway 67. The property was never used for anything."

At www.biloxidragway.com, you can find a great photo gallery of cars from throughout the years at the track, which operated as either an NHRA or AHRA strip from Sept. 1, 1957, through the end of 1967, when the land owner refused to renew the lease. The picture at below left was taken by our old pal Bret Kepner on a cold and rainy (and very muddy) day and shows the track cutting its way through a swath of trees. The photo at below right is a Google Earth image of the same (location: 40.827466, -72.684776).

 

Moving north of the border, Ron Hier sent this cool remembrance of Windsor Dragway, which opened Aug. 25, 1968, just 15 minutes from downtown Detroit. Hier had a brush with greatness with the Chi-Town Hustler team of Austin Coil and driver Pat Minick in the summer of 1970. "I met Austin and Pat at the Windsor tunnel by accident," he wrote. "I yelled to them, 'See you at the strip.' Austin yelled back, 'Wait a minute. Can we follow you there? We don't know where it is. This is our first time to this strip.' After he cleared customs, Austin and Pat followed my wife and I to the strip. When we got within sight of it, Austin beeped his horn and asked me to pull over and asked if they could use my car as their towing vehicle; that way, they could leave their truck in the pits. I told him that I would be honored. He said, 'Follow me in, and I will tell the people that you are with us.' So not only did I get to tow and pick up the Chi-Town, we got in for free! Austin gave me money around lunchtime, and I played gofer and got the four of us hot dogs, chips, and pop. He gave me their time slips from the races. This year, my daughter and I went to Norwalk for the Night of Fire. I caught up with Austin and had him sign the pic of the Chi-Town from 38 years ago!"

The track, located at 42.25729720, -82.875647, is still pretty visible and easily accessible off

Manning Road
between the MacDonald-Cartier Freeway and
Baseline Road
.

 

Gregg Lether and his wife recently headed out into the Arizona desert in search of old Beeline Dragway, which hosted AHRA national events but was more famously known as the site of the NHRA Winter Classic, an annual tune-up for the NHRA Winternationals that was attended by all of the big NHRA hitters. It was about 20 minutes from Phoenix, close to Scottsdale. With a long and wide strip, three-story heated timing tower, and more, it was a great venue for its day when it was built in 1963 and lasted into the mid-1970s.

"Man oh man Phil, where do I start with the emotions and feelings that I felt just being there," he wrote. "Although I was never able to go there during the track's heyday, I did look at some pictures of the track I found online before we went out. Just being there and imagining all the cars, drivers, and crew, I felt like I had gone back in time. It was really an amazing and emotional experience. I could almost see the Pay-N-Pak floppy with Hall and Ruth there. That was the first car I ever saw and never lost the passion for the sport."

Below are early photos from the track, followed by some of Lether's "now" shots and an undated aerial of the forlorn site as viewed in the Birds Eye view in Microsoft's Live Search Maps program (a fine alternative to Google Earth, though not all locations have Birds Eye). To make a beeline to Beeline, FlyTo 33.507320, -111.766725.

Tracy Arakaki, an executive producer for an independent motorsports show in Hawaii, sent these images of Hawaii Raceway Park, which closed just two years ago. The track is on the island of Oahu and located just up the coast from Honolulu.

"The track was perfectly up and running," he wrote. "The former landlord who held the master lease sold the option to purchase for $5 million, then for the past five years tried to get a tax credit of $50 million to acquire a parcel owned by the state to build another track on an active airport runway, which we know will never happen. A movement was formed to condemn the property through the City Council, then the former landlords who were now the managers tore up all the asphalt and burned down the tower (right) just in case the condemnation succeeded to mess things up.

"Lots of history at HRP. Roland Leong with driver Johnny West still has the track record at 5-teens, and the Desert Rat Funny Car crashed, and the front end was used as a clock and presented to someone at some awards banquet on the mainland."

Take your own all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii here: 21.314380, -158.098116. Aloha.

Speaking of aloha, that's it for the week. I hope you enjoyed another spooky trip down the quarter-miles of old. We have a busy week ahead of us with the NHRA Softball Classic Wednesday (I'll have live coverage from the ballpark!) and the Finals beginning Thursday. It's almost hard to believe the season is over -- after we send next week's National DRAGSTER Wednesday, only three issues remain -- and the long, cold winter will begin. Hang around here, though, and I'll try to keep at least your memories warm.