One of the tracks I always wanted to get to and never did was Summerville (SC) Speedway. The accounts of the weekly racing action there as reported in the weekly racing papers always sounded exceptionally exciting. I'm sure with so many South Carolinians on this site, many of you had that opportunity and I envy you. I happened on this 2005 reprint from the Charleston, SC paper that fascinated me, not so much because it was about Summerville, but because it sounded so much like the experiences we are all having as the weekly hometown tracks of our youth continue to disappear across the country. Thought you folks might enjoy it:
SUNDAY, JULY 17, 2005 12:00 AM
Asphalt, concrete and memories loaded up and carried away
BY DAVID CARAVIELLO
Of The Post and Courier Staff
SUMMERVILLE--The grandstands have been demolished or relocated, the asphalt surface has been broken up and removed, the buildings have been reduced to jagged piles of metal and concrete. All that remains of Summerville Speedway are earthen mounds where the banked corners once were, and a scoreboard looming over what used to be the second turn.
Soon they'll be gone as well, part of the process of turning the former racetrack into a suburban housing development. The place where Lowcountry drivers visited victory lane every Saturday night for 39 years, which ran under a NASCAR sanction for two decades and once attracted greats like Dale Earnhardt and Davey Allison for exhibition events, is now a demolition zone.
On a recent afternoon, a backhoe scooped up debris from what used to be the track's infield and dumped it into a nearby container. Trucks bumped over a rocky path between this construction site and an adjacent one across Central Avenue. Everywhere there were piles of debris -- smashed cinder block, fencing and other things too mangled to identify. The only engines heard now are those powering construction equipment.
James Island driver Raef Judd, who won the track's final Late Model championship last October, recently received an e-mail containing a photo of the demolished speedway where he and his father each competed for so many years.
"To be completely honest with you, it nauseated me," he said. "I didn't go and cover my head and cry or anything, but I did sit on the bed and reflect back to when I was 6 or 7 years old, watching my daddy race there and winning the championship and what a great thing that was. It's all gone now. It's sickening."
Charlie Powell has a hard time seeing it, too. The track's former operator sold the land to the Landcraft development company, closing a once-flourishing speedway that in recent years had struggled to draw fans and drivers, and couldn't compete with newer, publicly funded sports facilities in the Charleston area.
Before demolition began in early May, Powell moved some items such as newer grandstand seats, lights, and the public address system to another track he runs in Florence. One time when he and his wife Zonda visited the site, all that remained was the three-story scoring tower, its windows broken by vandals. He hasn't been back in about two weeks.
"I've stayed away from it a good bit," he said. "I was there for probably three weeks taking things down with some help. After I did that, I decided I needed to be away. I'd had about all I could handle, physically and mentally."
More than just a racetrack has been lost with Summerville Speedway's demolition. The facility's car count had gradually declined, as racers at even the lowest levels struggled to keep up with the escalating costs of the sport. With Summerville gone, Judd and a handful of other locals drive up to Florence to race. One or two others now compete at tracks in Hardeeville or Myrtle Beach.
The rest? "I guess they just quit," Powell said. "The economy has gotten so tight for stock-car racing, and the thrill of it seems to have gone away from when I raced. It seemed like guys were right on the fence and could go either way. You're going to stay on the fence until the wind comes and blows you off."
Powell shifted his Florence program from Saturday nights to Fridays, in hopes of attracting drivers who once raced at Summerville. So far, that hasn't happened. Powell estimates that about 15 percent of his old Summerville drivers have shown up in Florence, most of those in the lower classes.
"The guys who ran 4-cylinders and some of those other divisions (at Summerville), I see them at Florence every now and again," Judd said. "There are still a handful of guys racing. But I think the lion's share must have thrown their hands up. I haven't seen them around."
Brick by brick, driver by driver, the four-decade legacy that was Summerville Speedway is already fading away.
Residential homes -- could they at least call the development Speedway Acres? -- will occupy the spots where local drivers like Robert Powell and Jerry Williams won NASCAR weekly division titles, where stars like Rusty Wallace and Kyle Petty signed autographs, where family traditions were passed on with grease-stained hands.
One thing will survive. The asphalt that once coated the .4-mile speedway will be recycled. Some day, some place, tires will roll over a little piece of the old track once again.
"Somebody is going to get to ride on Summerville Speedway," Powell said excitedly. "I thought about that the other day. If people knew where that came from, they'd think, 'Boy, that used to be fast right there.'"
As someone who had the experience of racing there on dirt and asphalt this track was truly an AWESOME facility. A lot of great driver came through that place. It was a shame that it was destroyed.
I have some pics I will load later of this track. Under the STARS Page there are a few of a couple race cars that we raced there. The #6 Chick' Fi la car is one.
I remember the look of horror on my mom's face when the price of bread at our local Richmond Safeway jumped from 18 cents to 21 cents. We probably drowned our sorrow in a 5 cent Coke!
So who would be the expert on the history of the Summerville Speedway? thanks
I saw many a race on the Summerville track, both dirt and asphalt. I couldn't believe the news when I heard it was closing. Sad day for a great track.
Tim. Does anybody have a general history of Summerville Speedway. Years it ran, changes of ownership, changes to the track, highlights etc. Thanks
Lee, I'm very sorry that I don't have a history of the speedway. I went there the first time in the late 70s and the last time I was there was probably 1995 or so. Many races in between. Not sure of the owners but in the 90s I think it was a Powell, but not sure of that. I wasn't much into who owned and operated the tracks back then, just followed friends of mine racing.
Charlie Powell was the last owner of Summerville. After selling the speedway, Powell has focused on his track at Timmonsville, SC.
Summerville Speedway opened up on August 26th, 1965. It was first named Dorchester County Speedway, and ran 2 nights a week (Thursday , and Saturday). The track when opened was a 3/8 mile clay track.
Good info Thanks Jack
I think the original owner was named HIll. I think he ownded the track until the early dseventies when Charlie bought it from him.
Some interesting facts:
Tiny Lund won his last race the Wednesday night before he was killed in Talledega. It was called the TriState 200 then. Charlie rename it the Tiny Lund Memorial the following year.
When the Southern 500 in Darlington came to town, Charlie regularly had Winston Cup drivers in for fun races using local cars. It was a great chance to meet Cup drivers up close.
In the mid seventies, in a protest of allowing the first tube chassis car to race at Summerville, Billy Manor, refused to race the feature against what he termed "an illegal supermodified". Soon after, he formed a drivers union and reopened the old Charleston Speedway. It never drew fans and soon closed. (Just for history sake, Frank Graham, coming from the back of the field, outran the car BIlly so despised) 2 years later, Billy was among the horde of drivers runing tube cars.
Arguably the best driver to turn laps on the red clay was Al Bailey. He drove all levels of cars at the track, but was particulary known for two, the red #16 Cougar owned by Nathan Leggett, and the yellow Barry Wright #16 owned by H.M Grooms. Al was just about unbeatable in both.
During it's heyday, Summervile ran three classes with full fields: Hobby, Limited Sportsman, and Late Model.
Some drivers of note: Connelly Bryant(sp), Billy Manor, Jimmy Manor, Frank Graham, Charlie Powell, Mutt Powell, Jack Dunbar, Billy Judd, Hop Holmes, Bubba Into, Arnold Hutto, Reggie Strickland, Frank Mizzel, Barry Lewis, Marion Cox, Raymond Cox Al Bailey, Michael Leggett, J.B Burbage, Gary Martin, Robert Powell, Charles Powell III, Robert Elliott, David Into....
I see David Elrod has commented. His dad flagged the track forever before Jack Fulton took over. He has as much info available as anyone...
Hope this helps....
Sadly, the Charleston, SC area, once a hot-bed of racing, has gone totally dormant, DOA, with the closing of Summerville Speedway. With the exception of Myrtle Beach, there's not a race track in coastal South Carolina. Summerville, the sole survivor, and last in a long line of low-country tracks, faced the same impossible real estate scenario as many other coastal locations: the speedway property was worth much more as a haven for condo-cammandos than a race track. One thing is certain, in all of this, no race tracks, no racing. Works every time. It a'int rocket science.