Drag Racing’s ‘World Series’
To Keep Shelby Track Moving

Dick Smothers owned Oldsmobile G/S

The National Hot Rod Association will spin its World Championship tires at Shelby County International Raceway this weekend.

“It’s the World Series of drag racing,” says Lelan Stanton, SCIR’s new general manager. “All of the top names in racing will be here.”

The event is NHRA’s tournament of champions, based on a season of races across the nation and Canada where contestants are awarded points toward an entry in the season’s biggest showdown – the World Championship finals at Indianapolis Oct. 18-19.

A handful of NHRA records are expected to fall at SCIR during the two-day activity.

Inaugurated in 1965 as an outgrowth to NHRA’s World Championship series the World Finals annually produces a hotbed of rugged competition that involves more than 10,000 competitors in the preliminaries and about 350 for the main event.

The World Finals will climax the 1969 NHRA World Championship series of 42 events – six in each of the organization’s seven geographical divisions – where participants earn points toward individual divisional titles.

The Memphis alignment includes a big battle in street eliminator between point leader Bo Laws of Orlando, Fla., and Ronnie Stewart. Laws had back-to-back NHRA Winternationals and Springnationals street eliminator victories in 1968.

The Smother Brothers racing team will enter the GS field with their 1969 Oldsmobile, driven by Jim Waibel of Lakeland, Fla. Waibel is tied for first place in his class.

A full field of Super Stocks is expected, including Donnie Brewer of Morrow, Ga., the Barnett brothers’ City Dodge and Bill Tanner’s Lenox Dodge of Atlanta, Ga., and Melvin Yow of Lillington, N.C.

Raceway Schedule

SATURDAY: At 2 p.m., track gates open.
At 3 p.m., record runs, time trials and qualifying begins. At 8:45 p.m., Top Fuel eliminations begin.
SUNDAY: At 10 a.m., gates open at 2:30 p.m., all other eliminators will be run, along with a special Funny Car race.

Two-Lane Blacktop is here! Click here to see Lakeland International Raceway scenes from the movie.

Admission Ticket – Thanks Pat Toomey!

Two-Lane Blacktop – See scenes that were shot at Lakeland International Raceway.

My First Time – Read 2002 IHRA Top Fuel Champion Clay Millican’s memories of the first drag race that he can remember.

the old days 1. – This page starts out with some great mixed action primarily from the ’70’s. There are great shots from Louis Kimery, Chuck Jolliff, Chuck Schnider and Walter Harville. Also here, you’ll find some great professional shots that Louis Kimery dug up at the University of Memphis that originally ran in the old Press Scimitar newspaper. These shots include a couple neat road course photos as well.

the old days 2. Page 1 – Whoa! What else can you say about David Rubenstein’s extensive collection of Lakeland Funny Car photos. We can all be glad he carried his camera around every time he visited LIR.

the old days 2. Page 2 – More of David’s photos!

the old days 2. Page 3 – But wait, there’s more! 31 more to be exact.

the old days 3. – Travis Hinkle has raced on every quarter mile strip you can think of in the southeast. Paragould, Carlisle, Collierville, Halls and, of course, Lakeland to name a few. He has provided the earliest Lakeland photos on this site to date.

the old days 4. – A terrific group of professional black and white photos from Match Race Madness.

the old days 5. – Another great batch of early photos from Travis Hinkle.

the old days 6. – 1971 WHBQ Drag Festival action captured by Bob Kurneta.

the old days 7. – Here are some neat shots for Ford fans. Glen Patrick’s photo album is full of memories from racing all over the Mid-South. Here are some Lakeland shots from his albums.

the old days 8. – Take a look through Jack Martin’s scrapbook. He raced at Lakeland for quite a few years in the sixties.

the old days 9. – A few shots from Bobby Young Sr.

the old days 10. – Some neat shots from Bruce L. Grooms & Ken Hartsfield.

the old days 11. – Steve Wilson spent many years at Lakeland racing the Granny’s Garage cars. Here are some shots he’d like to share.

the old days 12. Page 1 – Local racer Larry Langston’s Lakeland photos.

the old days 12. Page 2 – Larry also had a number of Funny Car photos taken while they were being displayed at the old Coleman Taylor Transmission shop on Elvis Presley Blvd. & Brooks. There are also photos taken in the Lakeland pits.

Announcer’s shirt belonging to Jimmy Deese.
This is the shirt worn by Jimmy Deese when he was an announcer at Lakeland in the early ’70s. He still breaks it out when he attends the Super Chevy shows at Memphis Motorsports Park.
Spring Nationals Warm-Up – June 7th, 1967
Click to enlarge – Thanks to Chuck Schnider & Louis Kimery for this 1967 relic.

SUPER STAR WEEK – Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge – Thanks to Mark Janaky

1978 Classic Chevy Club event courtesy of Gregg Dempsey. Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge – Thanks to Gregg Dempsey

Check out this fun WKNO-TV video recounting the history of the Lakeland amusement park and surrounding amenities.

Although named after Collierville, a Memphis area suburb, the dragstrip was actually located in Marshall County, Mississippi about a mile past the state line. It backs up within feet of Highway 72. Click the satellite photo for a full size view that points out the dragstrip. Click for full size view.

Collierville Dragway Not being a native to this region, I really don’t know the history of this old track. I can say for sure that for the last decade, no doubt much longer, the track has been used as a junk yard.
The only horsepower around here would be the three seen grazing on the right side of the track.

Hmmm. That decrepit building certainly appears to be a remnant of the racing facility.
Anyone out there have tales or information about this old track?

News! Two-Lane ’55 Returns to Lakeland: Click here and check it out!

“I work for these boys, I’m their manager. We race that 55 Chevy sittin’ outside.
We heard there’s a good race track down around Memphis.”, GTO (Warren Oates)

Traversing the old Memphis-Arkansas Bridge over the mighty Mississippi River.

Dig the daisies on the Javelin

Rick Hale, who used to work in this tower, tells me that the announcer in the movie is Tommy ‘Minor’ Smart. The girl in the foreground of the picture is Judy Turner, and the other girl, in the background, was named Patsy Briscoe. Rick says that Track Manager Jim McDonald moved him from the tower to the time slip booth as the handicapper on the day of filming. Bummer.

Here comes GTO.

This was a local racer sponsored by Poplar Dodge and Racing Head Service

Bill “Mr. Bardahl” Hielscher’s Corvette on the trailer.

The girl goes to the bleachers.

the girl goes to watch 302 Camaro vs. 396 Camaro Atlas vs. Irish ‘Luck,, barracudas barracuda top end charge

B fueler staging, B fueler at speed, An old B-fueler., B dragster crosses the finish line

The Bill Taylor-Pat Collins
-Stanley Wolf Super Duster Funny Car piloted by Larry Reyes that evening. That’s Bill on the driver side of the car. Bill Taylor-Pat Collins Super Duster Super Duster burnout

Bill was a track owner, car owner and owner of Torque Converters, Inc. (TCI)

the ’55 from the crosswalk

The Driver (James Taylor) poised for a burnout under the crosswalk., the ’55 aproaches the line

Approaching the beams. staged – staged…dump the clutch!

Wisps of tire smoke on the launch.

bangin’ the muncie

Monte Hellman’s commentary on the DVD states that they blew up the transmission on one of these runs.

nightfall the driver lines up a race
prepping the ’55
“I put up the tools against 300.”

I set it up. We’re goin’ against the ‘vette. I put up the tools against three-hundred.”, The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson)

adjusting the valves

the girl switches rides

The girl changes rides.

Here is some fun commentary to accompany the Lakeland race scenes shown below:
” My name is Cindi Hielscher McMillan. My father was Bill “Mr. Bardahl” Hielscher. I remember going to the premier of the movie with my family, Aunts, etc. in Chicago. Mom and Dad were “shocked” by the language. It was a movie of it’s time. Dad said that they had to shoot the final scene (racing against James Taylor) several times because Dad just kept outrunning him. In the final clip if you watch it Dad gives him a hole shot (not something that Dad let happen when racing) and still almost beats him. My Dad raced professionally for only 6 ½ years.”

Cindi McMillan
Texas Raceway

the big race
“Coming to the line, a little ’55 Chevrolet in the tower side.”

“Goin’ down against Bill “Mr. Bardahl” Hielscher in B/H1.”

the driver concentrates on the tree
“A little B Hot Rod ’55 Chevrolet. The lights come down and the little ’55 Chevrolet is out of the hole first.”

win light goes to the ’55 The ’55 grabs the win light! silence

“the tires didn’t bite”
“The tires didn’t bite out of the hole. I just barely got him.”

going after the girl leaving LIR in pursuit of GTO

Two-Lane ’55 Returns to Lakeland: Click here and check it out!

June 2002 – The 55 Chevy featured in the Monte Hellman film “Two- Lane Blacktop” was originally constructed by Richard Ruth expressly for the 1971 film. There were other versions of the car used for “in car” scenes and such, but the main “star” car was a real street/strip 55 Chevy that pretty well epitomizes what a “hot rod” 55 was during the early seventies. No one “restored” these cars in those days, and most were built for speed. The trend to make them ultra slick high dollar show pieces would take another 20 years to materialize. This trend also jacked up their value to the point that seeing one as a purpose built street/strip car would be a rare sight indeed.

Allen McDaniel lives in the Tupelo, Mississippi area and saw the film when it was originally released. Apparently he has long been a fan of the film, and most likely, a bigger fan of the car. The film is no “Citizen Kane”, but has developed a sort of cult status amongst car folk and independent film maker types. It starred Warren Oates, James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, and Laurie Bird. Only Oates had prior acting experience. The “plot” if that’s what you call it, is that the two street racers (Taylor and Wilson) are plying their trade on the mean streets of Southern California until they encounter Oates, who they see as a mark and challenge him to a cross country “race” to Washington DC. The prize for the winner is to be the loser’s car. This sets the stage for an “Easy Rider” like sojourn throughout the American west and into the south.

This journey eventually leads them into the Memphis area, where the rock musicians turned actors decide to do some legit drag racing in search of fast cash. When they arrive at Lakeland Raceway, they are surrounded by lots of period perfect drag machinery, and the race track where I saw my first real drag racing. When I first saw the film, I was astounded to see Lakeland prominently featured. I had no idea. About fifteen minutes of realistic race footage from Lakeland found it’s way into the completed film.

Allen is a very nice fellow who has a passion for old cars (he has eleven) as well as the aforementioned film. Therefore, he chose to take a straight but plain Jane 1955 Chevy “210” sedan (like mine) and “convert” it into a “150” business coupe and duplicate the movie car. The car has a 468 cubic inch “Rat” motor with loads of go fast stuff added. Accuracy to the movie mobile was a priority, as Allen’s “duplicate” features many of the exact same parts on its motor as the original car had. A quick overview reveals a Weiand tunnel ram intake with twin Holley 450 mechanical carbs, fenderwell exhaust headers, and a roller cam. The result is a real healthy exhaust note and some serious horsepower.

The car also has a fiberglass flip front end, and radiused rear wheel wheels for the race size rubber that is attached to the stock width differential. (it’s a twelve bolt Chevelle unit) Ladder bars, no front bumper, a handmade aluminum hood scoop, and the prerequisite grey primer round out the “appearance” package. The interior features a roll bar, cut down “race” bucket seats, no back seat, (business coupes and hot rods don’t do back seats) “racing” belts, a Hurst shifter for the Muncie four speed, and an old “cup” style tachometer on the dash.

Allen got almost every detail of the movie car precisely duplicated. However, he purposefully left off the straight tube front axle, and stuck with the Chevy’s A-arm independent front suspension. He felt it was a better choice for a street driver.

We felt it was a given that we should do at least a few shots on the old abandoned drag strip where the original “Two-Lane” 55 gained it’s 1 & 3/4 hrs. of celluloid fame.

The Car Returns To Lakeland 2

October 2004 – I couldn’t resist, and had to pass on this account of my latest “last time ever” to visit old Lakeland International Raceway. Those of you that dig “Two-Lane Blacktop” might find it interesting.

This time my pal Greg Friend recruited Maryland resident Walt Bailey to bring his “Two Lane” camera car to the former Lakeland International Raceway. Dave Rasmussen (a friend of mine and Greg’s) met Walt at the Route 66 fest in Springfield Missouri, and suggested he visit the hallowed grounds soon since there wasn’t much left.

The stench of development is in the air near Lakeland, so Walt took Dave’s advice and headed for Memphis. The window of opportunity to get onto the track was only briefly open. When Walt arrived in town a week after talking to Dave, Greg promptly made the arrangements for the visit on Monday morning just hours before Walt was due to leave.

This was another proper reason to visit my old haunt though as Walt’s 55 is the genuine “camera car” and had an integral part in making “Two Lane Blacktop” the cult classic it has become. Many of the films scenes were shot from this car aboard platforms mounted to it’s flanks. It mattered enough to both Greg and I that we both split from work early on that afternoon and documented this car on it’s old stomping grounds.