The Gamecock Speedway was scheduled to open in March of 1957 under the management of promoter Wade Shugart. The newly constructed stands positioned along the straightway were designed to seat 2,000 fans.
The new facility was to also feature …
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The new facility was to also feature excellent concession stands, a ticket office and convenient restroom facilities. Thirty-five large floodlights were designed to illuminate the race area completely. "An added touch thrown in by promoter Shugart was a special elevated platform at the west end of the main grandstand with an inclined ramp leading to it."
This area was designated for all wheelchair patrons who had an interest in racing but who found it difficult to view the action. Special season passes were sent out by the management to persons confined to wheelchairs. Those who may not have received complimentary tickets had only to show up, and they would be ushered in at no cost. Ample parking was added for the convenience of the patrons.
Racing fans did not want to miss the opening night of racing since they would witness the skills of many of Sumter's most talented racers. Some of the drivers who committed to compete in the opening night race were Chuck Lattuca, Bobby Lee, Colin Weathersbee, "Hambone" Mathis, C. D. Galloway, C. O. McCathern, Cleveland Crocker, Buck Jackson, Charlton McLeod, Maxie Hicks, George Rowland, Russel Pritchard, Buddy Price, Billy Rhodes, R. T. Young, Liz Singletary, Jimmy Alsbrooks, Jim Surrie and Marion Bailey. These drivers were eager to tackle the quarter-mile banked track.
The cost of admission was established to accommodate everyone: Adults $1.50, servicemen in uniform 99 cents, children 10 to 14 years 50 cents and children under 10 free of charge. The track was located 2 1/2 miles out of the city on Wedgefield Highway.
Everything was set for the first race including an appearance by Miss Sumter of 1956, Sandra Jernigan, and a special performance by the Florence Quarter Midget drivers. "These Florence youngsters, whose ages ranged from 6 to 12, put on an exhibition race on a specially marked oval located in front of the grandstand in their tiny, one-cylinder speedsters."
The winner of the main event was guaranteed a $500 purse. Sgt. Harold Rickman, a former Midwest racer and flagman, served as chief steward and flagman. W. C. Hatfield was selected to be the chief inspector, F. M. Hurst was announcer, J. B. Burke and Horace Avins were judges, and James Montalbano was in charge of the pit gate. Dr. W. A. Stuckey was track physician, and Luther Keith served as assistant to the chief steward.
The grand opening of the Gamecock Raceway proved to be a "huge success with 1,600 fans witnessing a smashed-packed speed spectacle."
Promoter Shugart was pleased with the turnout, which saw 42 drivers take part in the initial race at the newly constructed facility.
Ernest Nicks, driver of No. 26, a Ford, won the first main event on the new track. Nicks, who came from second place, nosed out Johnny Dangerfield of Columbia to claim the first prize and etch his name in the record books. Nicks was presented a trophy by WFIG radio station manager T. Doug Youngblood.
The Florence Quarter Midgets provided the fans with an entertaining exhibition.
Prior to the beginning of the race, Miss Sumter and Sheriff I. Byrd Parnell rode around the track in a Ford convertible. The initial race and the raceway proved great successes and assured that racing would become a part of Saturday night for the citizens of Sumter for years to come.
Reach Item Archivist Sammy Way at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 774-1294.
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