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Classic Darlington Dragway Sign Gets Facelift

Saturday, 16 March 2024

HARTSVILLE, S.C. — Normal track maintenance led to the refurbishing of a historic sign at Darlington Dragway.

As workers trimmed overgrown juniper trees, track president Jeff Miles added they needed to do something with the sign that listed the names of IHRA event winners, particularly from the IHRA Winter Nationals.

“It actually has all the names from 1977 to ’93,” Miles said. “We got digging around it and figured how to move it. Now we’re going to move the sign, put flag poles around it and put our Sean Serra Memorial beside it. We wanted to make a shrine so everyone can appreciate the history.”

Serra, a successful big-money bracket racer, died tragically as a passenger in a highway crash in 2022. He was just 27 years old. As for the sign, it has been cleaned up and painted with the names of event winners through 1987. 

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Tom “Mongoose” McEwen won the Funny Car class at the 1977 IHRA Winter Nationals. Other Funny Car legends who are listed on the sign include Dale Pulde with four wins, Kenny Bernstein with three wins, Raymond Beadle with two wins and Ed “Ace” McCulloch with one.

Top Fuel, or the sign calls it “Pro Dragster,” shows Paul Longnecker and Clayton Harris as winners in 1977 and ’78. They’re followed by 17-time World Champion “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Richard Tharp, who won back-to-back IHRA Winter Nationals in 1980-81. Connie Kalitta, Joe Amato, Jeb Allen and Jim Barnard are other fearless men who sped down the track to take home trophies.

Harold Denton is the first winner listed on the Pro Stock side with his 1977 victory. Names like Warren Johnson, Roy Hill, Lee Shepherd, Rickie Smith and Ronnie Sox also adorn the sign along with other greats like Lee Edwards, Billy Ewing and Darrell Alderman.

Once, the sign is fully restored to include the winners up until 1993, it will show Bernstein capturing the Top Fuel title in 1991. The IHRA Winter Nationals at Darlington actually ran until 2000 when Paul Romine captured the Top Fuel victory. The Funny Cars competed until 1992 with Tom Hoover the winner. Steve Spiess won the Pro Stock class in 2000. 

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The Pro Mods ran from 1990-2000 with IHRA Hall of Famers Scotty Cannon and Shannon Jenkins capturing Ironman trophies. Ed Hoover won the race in both 1990 and 2000, and record-setting racer Bill Kuhlmann was the 1994 winner. That history plays well as Darlington Dragway will feature a blast from the past when the Pro Mods headline the IHRA Hot Rod Classic on May 2-4. 

“I don’t know of another track that can match Darlington’s history,” Miles said. “It had the first 5-second Pro Mod, the first 200 mph Top Sportsman. There’s just so much history here.”

As a South Carolina native, Miles has a deep appreciation of the facility and its history. That’s why it was so important to him to have the sign restored.

“Ever since I came here, I wanted to do something with the sign,” he said. “You would be amazing once I posted the photo on Facebook how many people didn’t even realize it was out there.”

Miles looks forward to more history in the making as Darlington is hosting such events as the IHRA Hot Rod Classic and IHRA Division 9 (Raiders) Summit Team Finals in 2024.

“So many people are talking about the Hot Rod Classic. Then, we have 10 IHRA points races and the IHRA Summit Team Finals,” he said. “We have a full slate of great races this year.”

Click here to check out the Darlington Dragway Facebook page for more exciting news at the legendary track.

Last modified on Monday, 18 March 2024

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