Drag Racing’s Bloody Sunday –

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We had been on our approach to Covington, Georgia, the picturesque quintessential southern city the place my pretty spouse was raised. The city has been the set of over 150 movies and TV collection. Covington has been portrayed as Hazard, Georgia (Dukes of Hazard); Sparta, Mississippi (Within the Warmth of the Night time), Alexandria, Virginia (Keep in mind the Titans), the city of Mystic (Vampire Dairies), and nearly a whole lot of different southern cities as Covington is the unique Hollywood South.

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As we go by means of the neighboring city of Porterdale, I’m wondering how this little city, so near Covington, with its predominant road being a busy stretch of Freeway 81, bought left behind. The town has potential. Its panorama is dotted with most of the similar southern-style craftsman homes and Victorian structure that make Covington such a good looking place. But most of the buildings in Porterdale have sat unrenovated, dilapidating for many years.

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The “Dixie Tornado”, the automotive that went into the stands at Yellow River

As we handed the Mill Lofts, as soon as owned by the city’s namesake, Oliver S. Porter, and started traversing the Yellow River, I observed just a few kayakers under and puzzled aloud, “Is that each one there may be to this city? Has something of observe ever occurred right here?”

“Nothing that I’m conscious of,” was the response to my rhetorical query from the spouse who grew up 5 miles east of stated city.

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That couldn’t be the reply, proper? Each city has slightly historical past, and each city has a narrative. I made a decision to perform a little digging and discover out if something fascinating ever occurred in Porterdale, and you realize what, it was a drag. A disastrous drag.

The Yellow River Dragstrip, to be exact. Throughout the Sixties, the Yellow River Dragstrip (TYRD) was the venue of normal Drag racing occasions that includes the likes of “Dyno” Don Nicholson, “Huge Daddy” Don Garlits, Ronnie Sox, Phil Bonner, Hubert and Houston Platt, and Richard Petty. On the fashionable observe, he hosted “Beat Petty” occasions by means of Richard Petty Enterprises. TYRD was like many southern speedways of the time, unsanctioned and unsafe, but it surely was fashionable and profitable. Most backwoods dragstrips within the Sixties would pay out $500 to $1,000 in purses on a very good evening. TYRD marketed as much as $6,000 per warmth when some common, would-be Corridor of Famers had been on the town.

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TYRD’s run as King of the River got here to a screeching, screaming, bloodletting, deadly halt on a chilly Sunday afternoon in 1969. The March 2nd “Huge Go” races and championship heats adopted a day of qualifying on Saturday, March 1st. Over 5 thousand spectators lined the dragstrip as the longer term Georgia Racing Corridor of Fame driver and proprietor Huston Platt lined up his legendary Camaro, the Dixie Tornado, alongside contender Frank Oglesby on the sand-dusted asphalt that was the Yellow River observe. TYRD was one of the fashionable tracks in Georgia for drivers and spectators. The drivers liked the flat, clean floor, which made for a “Quick Observe,” and the prize cash was at all times respectable. Spectators liked being “proper on high” of the motion. When the Dixie Tornado screamed previous the sunshine tree and over the beginning line, the gang moved as near the fence as they may, lower than ten toes from the racing floor, to get the very best vantage level. One of many spectators had a full can of beer knocked out of his hand whereas resting on the fence. As one would possibly anticipate in a correct Greek Tragedy, the beer can flipped a few occasions, not spilling a lot of its beloved brew, and landed upright, able to be picked up and consumed.

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On the exact second the beer-loving spectator lurched himself to dangle over the fence, reaching for the ale, Platt felt the Dixie Tornado drift towards the gang and heard a loud bang. He instinctively pressed the button, deploying the humorous automotive’s parachute. As an alternative of slowing the trajectory of the Tornado, the parachute ripped open the dethatched lid of the dragster, jerking the car, touring at 170 mph straight into the fence and the horrified crowd. The fiberglass physique shattered, turning into flying sharp edges.

The parachute swept the spectator and his beer into its waft, ripping the person in two. He died immediately. The fence disintegrated within the path of the Dixie Tornado. The race automotive had climbed the embankment, mangled the rusting chain hyperlink fence, and plowed by means of the gang, coming to a halt as its body wrapped round a light-weight pole simply past the fence on high of the berm. Because the smoking sizzling dragster got here to relaxation on high of quite a few spectators, there was a determined effort to rescue the trapped and dying. The scene was chaotic, and there was a mad sprint to exit the venue, which prevented first responders from accessing the wreckage.

Over 60 spectators had been casualties of the crash, with eleven fatally wounded and one different sufferer that survived for 4 days earlier than succumbing to his accidents in an Atlanta hospital. Lots of the injured had been loaded into different spectators’ autos and rushed to numerous regional hospitals. The vast majority of these killed had been youngsters, with one three-year-old boy being among the many fatalities. He had been atop his Dad’s shoulders when the errant automotive hit the stands. Platt, the driving force, was not injured however was later handled for shock.

The aftermath was immense. The community of southern speedways and dragstrips got here underneath fireplace because the NHRA’s Government Director, Wealthy Lynch, branded TYRD an “Outlaw” unsanctioned observe and questioned the security of most of the southern stalwart racing venues. One of many different racers blamed the accident on the observe’s composition. Investigators agreed with the evaluation of poor observe circumstances and practically non-existent security measures. Important modifications and laws got here to the game because of the Yellow River Tragedy, which stays the best catastrophe in drag racing historical past, and TYRD by no means held one other race.

The property can be transformed into an RV Park and later an prolonged keep cellular dwelling neighborhood. There isn’t a lot left of the legendary previous observe as we speak, besides the observe itself, which is the primary strip of the cellular dwelling park that appears to have swallowed the reminiscence of TYRD.

There’s a graphic newbie video of the crash on YouTube and numerous articles regarding the Yellow River Tragedy, however that appears to be all that continues to be to inform the story of the one large factor that occurred in Porterdale, Georgia. You understand what, it actually was a horrible, mindless, avoidable drag.

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