Goin' to Drag City: Blaney Drag Strip
by David Burlington

In November of 1963, Jan & Dean had a big hit with their song Drag City. To guys 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 been a going concern for years and was a reputable NHRA-sanctioned strip. Blaney was a modest affair, no different from most drag venues of that era. However, it was a mecca for me. In addition to hosting one of NHRA's Div. 2 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 what had happened to the old quarter mile and whether anything remained. On a visit to the site several years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see that portions of the strip and pits were still 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 asphalt patch close to a old tree I remembered. It brought back a vivid memory of seeing Pete Robinson's 427 cammer Ford rail pitted near that tree one night in '69 or '70. Even though he was busy working on the car, he still had time for a friendly "hello" to a kid (me) who idolized him.

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, gave you the distinct impression of a strip surface with grandstands on each side.

Some of the fence surrounding the track was still standing. The entrance leading to the pits still exists and now serves as the main gate leading into the mobile home park. I couldn't help thinking that all was missing 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), Jungle Jim, Roland Leong's Hawaiian, the Tennessee Bo Weevil, Alan Starr's Starrliner AA/FD from North Carolina, Cyr & Schofield, Tommy Ivo, Clayton Harris, Sox and Martin, Connie Kalitta, Pee Wee Wallace's Virginian, Bill Flynn's Yankee Peddler, the Trojan Horse, and many more. One regular competitor at Blaney was the Powell & Burnett Rat-motored top fueler from Charleston, SC.

The strip was owned and operated at first by the Smith family of Columbia, SC. Blaney was clean, with reputable Chrondeks. I well remember the announcer's comic chatter about the shutdown area; he noted that there was a lengthy shutdown area, followed by a hundred acres of "soft pine trees" if a car's chute failed to open. One day, Floridian Lou Azar's unique AMC Gremlin-bodied funny car roared through the traps at 200 mph. That was an excellent time for those days, especially for the very unaerodynamic Gremlin. Unfortunately, the parachutes were late in coming out. Lou somehow managed to get the car stopped but the announcer joked that they had to practically pry his hands off the wheel.

Some time later, Johnny Dowey of the Columbia area managed the strip. Dowey was an active racer, with a series of Home Wrecker Camaro pro stockers. This writer does not know the exact date that Blaney closed.

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 in California, 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 diggers being push-started for the first round of top fuel, Blaney Drag Strip will always live in the vivid world of memory.

 

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