Southern Fried Racing

As we drove through the large grassy field and were directed to a parking spot it felt as though we were headed for a county fair, not a professional racing event. The parking area was filled with pick-up trucks and assorted American iron. Not a Porsche in sight. The track was lit up in the early southern evening like a midway. All that was missing was a Ferris wheel looming over the entire affair.

NASCAR’s Busch series was racing this evening at the Myrtle Beach Speedway. Located four miles from the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, on the road to Conway, this half- mile oval was built in 1958 and was originally known as the Rambi Speedway. Until 1987 it was a dirt track which hosted the likes of Richard Petty, the Allison brothers, Ned Jarrett, and David Pearson. It is still the site of stock car racing at its southern best. No it’s not the Big Track, and neither Bill Elliot nor Jeff Gordon could be found on the premises, but this was a prime example of racing in the south just like it used to be.

The country fair atmosphere was not dispelled as we walked a corridor of souvenir trailers and entered the track. The gate was manned by a good-old-boy in denim overalls. The vendors inside the gate stood behind counters framed in white clapboard. To change comparisons, these were more like the concession stands one would find at a high school football game than a professional racing venue. One vendor presented its food stuffs on folding card tables with hand scrawled signs announcing remarkably cheap prices. Hot dogs $1.25. including onions and sauce. Canned beer from a wash tub full of ice: $3. (Not everything was cheap, however; the tickets were $55.)

As we entered the stands and took our seats the Winston Cup influence was clear. In the center of the oval were parked the huge tractor-trailer rigs one associates with NASCAR. Large sponsor decals for nationally marketed products were prominent. The cars were lined up along the pit lane, still silent. And since this was to be a televised event, the in-car camera helicopter was warming up just outside the track. The local flavor was re-established when some of the crew members and track workers were observed to be wearing jeans and slightly soiled tee shirts. Few of the crews appeared to be in uniform. Only the drivers wore helmets.

The grandstand, which covered half of the perimeter of the track, offered comfortable seats with backs to them, just like many of the bigger tracks. The crowd was littered with women and small children, though it was dominated by white southern males, many sporting radio headsets to listen to the crews and drivers. A friendly, polite, knowledgeable crowd.

“The Myrtle Beach 250” was fast and loud. Real loud. There was a bit of the rubbing and bumping one associates with stock car racing, but not as much as we expected. The racing was close and entertaining. Jeff Green, the pole sitter, won the event in his bright yellow, Nestle NesQuick Chevrolet. The average speed was 69.399 MPH, run in just under two hours. A remarkable 36 of the 43 starters were running at the end.

Leaving the track was not the best part of the evening. The near gridlock of vehicles kept us idling and creeping for nearly 45 minutes before we escaped into the warm summer evening. Two hours later we were back at our beach house, ears still ringing.

© W. S. Cline/Rose Lane Garage 2000

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