Most every racer, be they professional or amateur, can name the drag strip where they got their feet wet. Maybe it was a local track where everyone spent their weekends with the pedal to the metal, or maybe they had to trek to a site hours away. Regardless, enthusiasts have made their way out to these tracks and have made memories to last a lifetime -- a quarter mile at a time. Many of those memories are slipping away though as countless tracks have lost funding and supporters and have had to close their gates for good.
This is the subject Tommy Lee Byrd delves into in his new book “Lost Drag Strips: Ghosts of Quarter-Miles Past.” After a foreword by legendary racer Don Garlits and a short history of drag racing, Byrd revisits some 30 abandoned and dilapidated strips that have fallen by the wayside over the years.
"Some drag strips were immediately dismantled after closing, with the property being redeveloped into everything from basic neighborhoods to private airports to industrial use. Others sat idle for years, allowing the structures and pavement to deteriorate. Either way the chips fell, it’s sad to see such once-hallowed grounds in poor condition,” Byrd writes in the introduction.
This is the exact feeling enthusiasts in New Jersey are facing, as their beloved local track Island Dragway in Great Meadows will not be opening its gates this year. As lifelong residents of New Jersey, my father’s enthusiasm for the sport grasped my brother and me at a young age and we too had the pleasure of frequenting the “Island” on a consistent basis. We are heartbroken to see our own favorite drag strip fade into a memory.
Among the tracks revisited in the book are Pocono Drag Lodge in Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, U.S. 30 Drag Strip in Gary, Indiana, and Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California. Pocono Drag Lodge is one of the luckier strips in that it still exists for reunion events every year after closing following Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and a general loss of public interest in muscle cars thereafter. U.S. 30 Drag Strip remains abandoned after it was shut down due to noise ordinances in 1984, while Riverside International Raceway has been demolished. A shopping mall stands where rubber once met asphalt.
What non-enthusiasts fail to recognize is that with the closing of these drag strips, racers will have to resort to other less safe ways of wringing out their cars -- mainly street racing -- which presents its own set of problems.
“The goal of this book is to rekindle the flame in the hearts of drag racers and spectators who experienced good (or bad) times at any of the tracks featured,” Byrd writes. He accomplishes this in a way that makes the reader feel as if they know each track personally.
Support your local drag strip before it's too late!