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 thatfascinated 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 ouryouth 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.'"
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
updated by @dave-fulton: 12/05/16 04:09:31PM