Bright Future Ahead For Darlington Dragway With New Ownershipby Hunter Thomas December 11, 2015 0 comments
HARTSVILLE, S.C. – As of December, Russell and Dee Dee Miller have acquired ownership of the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) sanctioned, Darlington Dragway, located just off the East Bobo Newsome Highway.
The Miller family who calls Hartsville, South Carolina home is looking to transform the depleting legendary Darlington Dragway into a premier hot spot for racing. Their timeline? Just three months. Although the challenge sounds like quite a feat, it shouldn’t be a problem for the family that lives and breathes the sport together.
The family owns and operates Pee Dee Fleet Truck and Trailer Center, but their passion is Pee Dee Fleet Motorsports, a well-known drag racing team that is home to the famous Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) Pro Mod 1969 Chevelle, driven by Russell and his son, Tyler. The team also has a competitive junior dragster program that’s piloted by Russell’s daughter, Brooke. In fact, coming primarily from the team side of the sport, the Millers hope their years of competitors will play into their advantage when managing the dragway. A track promoter who can understand and relate to the drivers will likely find success.
“Being in racing as long as I have and my family racing as long as we have, we’ve been to a lot of venues and have done a lot of racing, and we know what we want,” Miller said. “We want showers at the track if we’ve got to spend the night. Darlington doesn’t have showers. It will have showers now. We want a smooth track. We want a track that’s prepped properly. We want a track that has the equipment to prep it properly, and those are all of the things Darlington is going to get now.”
There is an impressive set of improvements on the horizon that the Millers are intending on making. Fencing that line the highway will be replaced, and as far as structuring, bathrooms, the control tower and suites will be significantly improved. Even some of the stands will also be repaired. As for the competitors, they’ll be treated to many improvements, including a much more competitive racing surface. At a high rate of speed, the last thing anyone wants is for a race car to be disturbed by bumps or dips in the track’s surface, so before the 2016 season gets underway, Darlington Dragway’s surface will be grinded down and smoothened out.
“We’re bettering the integrity of the track, and what I mean by that is we’re going to grind the track,” Miller said. “In drag racing, a very flat smooth track is very, very important because these high horse powered cars – bumps and stuff get them out of shape.”
A new timing system will be installed to ensure more accurate results, as well. Whether it’s bracket racing, heads-up racing or whatever the style may be, timing is absolutely everything, and the Millers want to make sure the correct numbers are displayed once the cars pass through the line.
“Also, we’re putting in a new timing system which is also integrity of the track – where a guy can come here and race and expect the right numbers,” Miller said. “Drag racing is all about the numbers. If you’re bracket racing, you’ve got to run your number. If you’re heads-up racing, you want to run as fast as you can, and those numbers have to be right. So, a new timing system was very apparently needed.”
The facility’s facelift will also include the ever so important safety improvements. The steel guardrails that line the outside of the racing surface will be replaced by concrete walls. This is extremely important because concrete doesn’t give when a car plows into it, whereas steel can wrap around a car, throwing it in a less desirable location and at times, steel guardrails can even go through a car.
“Third thing, big time safety issue, especially for faster cars is the concrete guardrails,” Miller said. “That’s something that has haunted Darlington for probably the last 20 years is the fast that it had steel guardrails. Fast cars get into steel guardrails and bad things happen, but a concrete guardrail doesn’t give up, and it doesn’t go in the car on you and do all those kinds of things. So what we did is we took IHRA’s spec to build these guardrails, and like you see now, we’re in the process of building them.”
Darlington Dragway will always be geared towards the local racers in the Pee Dee region and from around South Carolina, but Russell Miller believes that there may be some opportunities to attract a few national events in the near future. Due to the small spacing separating the racing surface from the grandstands, nitro Top Fuels and Funny Cars can’t compete, but Pro Mods and other professional classes can.
“My definition of Top Fuel cars would be Nostalgia cars,” Miller said. “We can get those in here. We can get some Pro Mods in here. We can get some national events in here. We can get PDRA, which is the premier door slammer class. I’ve already done a little bit of negotiating with that division, and they are very much looking forward to it in 2017. In 2016, we’re just going to get back to the basics. We’re going to be a really, really good hometown track, and we want to have some very good local events, and that’s what we’re after to start with. As time goes on, I see it pushing on to more national events.”
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas