Memories of the Yellow River Drag Strip in Porterdale, Georgia

This upcoming Sunday, October 1st, marks the annual Cars of the Past Classic Car Show on the square in historic Covington, Georgia. This year marks the 25th kickoff of this annual event, sponsored each fall by the Rotary Club of Covington. Car buffs from all over visit Downtown Covington to experience hot rods from every decade, and to visit the film locations of Dukes of Hazzard as well as Cannonball Run.

To celebrate this annual event that’s become a local Covington tradition, we wanted to bring you the story of the Yellow River Drag Strip that was once located in nearby Porterdale, Georgia.

yellow river drag strip
Photo via Ernie Scott/Georgia Drag Racing

yellow river drag strip
Yellow River Drag Strip Pit Pass from 1962

In the 1950's-60’s, the Yellow River Drag Strip was no more than a mere stretch of pavement that ran through a basin in Western Newton County. But the simple landscape didn’t make this race venue any less-popular. 

It’s been said that Yellow River was among the most prevalent drag strips of that time. Noted drag racers of the time such as “Dyno Don” Nicholson, Malcolm Durham, Huston Platt, Don Carlton, Phil Bonner, Ronnie Sox, Hoyt Grimes, and Big Daddy “Swamprat” competed at the Yellow River strip. Facebook user Kathryn Farrow Bates even added that she raced there at one time.

“I used to drag a '57 Chevrolet there, loved it. At the time, I was the only female racing. I had a fast car, won many trophies, and no the men did not like it,” said Bates.

yellow river drag strip
Huston Platt and his Dixie Twister funny car

In order to attend these races, local fans would literally “come out of the woodwork” as crowds appeared from the adjacent woods to the country race track. Unfortunately, safety precautions for fans and bystanders weren’t put into place in the 60’s. 

Shallow dirt banks with chain-link fences lined each side of the strip, and fans could practically reach out and touch the cars as they blasted by. It was for this very reason that the local race strip closed unexpectedly in 1969, after seeing its darkest day on the asphalt.

yellow river drag strip
Photo of the Yellow River Drag Strip via Jerry L. Crawley

On March 2nd, 1969, Georgia drag racing legend Huston Platt was in his Dixie Twister car, racing against Frank Oglesby in Dyno Don’s Cougar. Locals say that this contest was the largest race event of its time, and that this race in particular has been hauntingly unforgettable for those in attendance. On this spring afternoon, Platt’s Dixie Twister suddenly lost control and hurdled into the crowd of audience members standing nearby.

Some reports state that a fan was enveloped in Platt’s parachute after hopping the fence to retrieve a beer can that had fallen on the track, which caused Dixie Twister to kill eleven people and injure many more. Another local legend says that a tie rod was broken instead, causing the drag car to veer off-track and cause so many fatalities.

The official Atlanta-Journal Constitution printed this statement on the following day:

“At the 1,000-foot mark, Huston heard what he thought was a ‘bang,’ and lifted off the throttle, at the same time deploying the parachute. The preliminary pop chute was quickly followed by the main chute, which filled quickly. Witnesses reported that a spectator ran to the edge of the track and was swept up in the fully blossomed chute. Some reports had him trying to retrieve a beer can from the track.”

yellow river drag strip
The Aftermath of Huston Platt's Crash in Dixie Twister, 1969

Wherever the truth lies on this tragic event in local history, it was on this day in 1969 that the drag strip closed its gates and declared that an “engine would never turn at Yellow River (again).” This event was absolutely heartbreaking for our community, and we will always remember those who were lost in this horrific accident.

Do you have any memories from the Yellow River Drag Strip? Were you at the race on the infamous day that we will never forget in Porterdale, Georgia? Or, do you have a personal opinion on the theories of how this tragic accident may have occurred? We would love to hear from you! Connect with us on social media, and share your local experience with us.

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