Jerry Summers: Drag Racing In Tennessee, Georgia And Alabama

Thursday, August 5, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

In addition to stock car racing, the Chattanooga area has been a hot bed venue for the popular sport of drag racing.

            During the heyday of this type of racing in the 1950’s and 1960’s, at least 11 drag strips existed within 100 miles from Chattanooga.  Today only the Brainerd Optimist Club in Ringgold, Georgia and Paradise Drag Strip in Calhoun, Georgia are still operating. Strips in Covington, Georgia; Blue Ridge, Tennessee (Double H. Drag Strip); Dallas, Georgia (Southeastern International Dragway); Smithville, Tennessee (Smithville Drag Strip); Blairsville, Georgia (Lloyds Drag Strip); Harriman, Tennessee (Harriman Drag Strip); Glencoe, Alabama (Greenvalley Drag Strip); Ringgold, Georgia (Drag City) and Loudon, Tennessee (Loudon Raceway) are closed down and are just a part of the history of drag racing.

            Chattanooga was the hub of the drag strip industry and the other defunct strips mentioned above were all less than 100 miles from the original Hixson and subsequent present Ringgold locations of the Brainerd Optimist Club.

            The popularity of the sport was not hurt by the release of the movie “Rebel Without A Cause” (1955) starring James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo that dealt with the issue of teenager problems during adolescence and juvenile delinquency.

In the late 1950’s, drag racing was still primarily a sport prominently engaged in on the West Coast.

However, in 1957, the Brainerd Optimist Club sponsored the erection of a 3,160 foot long and 40 foot wide track in the suburb of Hixson outside Chattanooga.  Local newspaper reporter and car enthusiast John “Buddy” Houts was able to secure approval from city and county officials to build the track under the sponsorship of the Brainerd Optimist Club for charitable purposes.

Unfortunately, the noise from the track incurred the wrath of neighbors living next to it, and they threatened to file a lawsuit on the grounds of interference of their “right to enjoy the peace and quietness of the area.”

As a result, the track was moved to the Ringgold area off of I-75 and remains in that location today.  Saturday night races still show a strong amount of support for the sport.  The Hixson track in 1964 was converted into the Dallas Bay Skyport for use by pilots of small planes.

The Ringgold strip has incurred its ups and downs over the years with several management changes but has been recognized as one of the premier tracks in the Southeast.  Its excellent accommodations led to the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) selecting Brainerd as a location for one of its national point meets.

Like many of the earlier tracks, it has been shortened from a quarter mile drag strip to an eighth mile track due to increased safety regulations.

Hopefully, the track will continue to be modernized to comply with the needs to repair the damage caused by occasional floods in this low lying area.

The other surviving strip is Paradise Drag Strip which opened in 1961 in Calhoun, Georgia.  The track was popular for Super Stock drag racing.

Like most tracks, racing activity declined over the years at Paradise but renewed interest from the nostalgic drag racing crowd boosted attendance and a few of those events still take place each year.

Although they are now closed, each of the former tracks had unique features.  The highlight in the history of the Double H Drag Strip took place in May, 1965, when it was the third and final race in a three-day contest Super Stock event that was called the World Series of Drag Racing at Paradise Valley, Brainerd Optimist Drag Strip and Double H Drag Strip.

The oldest strip in the drag racing hub was opened on July 4, 1955, at Dallas, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta.  Southeastern International Dragway drew crowds from both Chattanooga and Atlanta.  The track operated until December 11, 2005, when the land was sold for anticipated development but which did not take place.

A tornado in April, 1968, was responsible for the closing of the Smithville Drag Strip in Smithville, Tennessee.

Located in the backwoods of Blairsville, Georgia was Lloyd’s Drag Strip which opened in 1962, and initially featured a concrete launch pad and then a packed dirt track.  A fully paved racing surface was implemented in 1963, but operation ceased in the late 1960’s.

Harriman Drag Strip was never mentioned but it was a popular track and drew a lot of fans from the surrounding areas at its weekly races.  The nearby Emory River produced additional excitement when a stuck throttle or brake failure might result in a water ending for the participants.

Green Valley Racing Drag Strip enjoyed great reviews at Glencoe, Alabama after it opened in 1959.  It operated until the 1980’s when it shut down but was successfully revived and continued operating until 1997.  When it closed, the track became a parking area for the dirt track Green Valley Speedway.

Drag City was also located in Ringgold, Georgia and opened in the 1960’s.

It served as a great home for gassers and stock car races.  It was a fifth-mile track and it operated simultaneously with Brainerd Optimist Drag Strip without any major problems between the competitors.  It closed in 1984.

The Loudon Raceway site is now underwater as a result of the flooding of the land as part of the controversial Tellico Dam project in 1979.  The track drew many racers from Chattanooga and Knoxville.

The history of the existing and abandoned drag strip tracks as well as others are described in Tommy Lee Byrd’s book, “Lost Drag Strips – Ghosts of Quarter-Miles Past” which listed a total of 15 tracks within a 100-mile radius of Chattanooga.

Said publication can be bought on Amazon with prices ranging from $3.35 to $25.23.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

 

           


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