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History THUNDERBOLT DRAG STRIP Orange Park, Florida

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by jangleguy, Jul 4, 2015.

  1. jangleguy
    Joined: Dec 26, 2004
    Posts: 2,668

    jangleguy
    Member

    Does anyone have photos of the Thunderbolt Drag Strip in Orange Park, Florida? I'm doing a piece on this once-popular track, and have pretty good info, but NO PHOTOS! Did they confiscate cameras at the gate, or what? Any help on this would be very much appreciated. Thanks in advance,

    Scotty (AKA Jangleguy)
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2015
  2. jangleguy
    Joined: Dec 26, 2004
    Posts: 2,668

    jangleguy
    Member

    Anyone? Bueller? Hello, is this thing on???
     
  3. Civilance-civilance....a bump for my brotha
     
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  4. HOTFR8
    Joined: Nov 30, 2010
    Posts: 2,015

    HOTFR8
    Member

    The light (Xmas Tree) will come on for some one.
     
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  5. k9racer
    Joined: Jan 20, 2003
    Posts: 3,117

    k9racer
    Member

    Eddie Roche is a racing historian out of Deerfield beach can help. he has in his collection all of Bobby Day 5X5 photos. He shot mostly circle track but did a lot of Drag races. Then The Don Garlits museum has a good arcive of fla drag strips. Last is Bob Sweet of Stock Island he and his wife promoted several drag strips in Fla. He is in the real estate bus on Stock Island. I hope these help. Just do a search on their names as I do not have contact info.. I hope this helps... Bobby
     
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  6. FlemingIs_FL_Jun43.jpg
    As of 1965 the northern runway was being reused for drag racing, known as Thunderbolt Dragway.

    Drag racing historian Bret Kepner confirms that "Thunderbolt Dragway was located on the property of the abandoned Fleming Island NOLF.

    Local racers, (and there were plenty; this was a very popular track),

    insist the name came from a large stockpiling of P-47s [Thunderbolts]

    on the NOLF before it was decommissioned."

    According to Bret, Thunderbolt Dragway closed “in the early 1970s.”
     
  7. Just in case you do not have this info...
    Mike McInnis, who saw his first drag race in (he thinks) 1965, recalled his most memorable ghost track. "I got interested in cars and started reading every car magazine I could get my hands on about 1962. (I was 11)," he wrote. "I started reading about drag racing and started bugging my dad to take me to a race. We were on the south side of Jacksonville, Fla., late one Sunday afternoon, and I started seeing numbers of cars (mostly flat towed) coming back from a day at the drags at nearby Thunderbolt Dragway. Needless to say, my efforts to get to a race intensified. We lived about 100 miles from that track (in O’Brien, Fla.), but that seemed like a small obstacle to a young kid dying to see some action at the drags. I heard an advertisement on the Jacksonville radio station WAPE, the big Ape, 690 on the AM dial, stating that Eddie Schartman and the Air Lift Rattler would be match racing with Shirl Greer in the Tension Dodge at the Thunderbolt Dragway, under the lights on Saturday night.
    "Never has a more intense bit of lobbying taken place than that which was done as I promised my dad anything just to get him to take me. Well, he finally broke down (as dads often do; I have four sons of my own) and took me and a buddy over there. Thunderbolt Dragway was just a part of an old abandoned military airfield complex south of Jacksonville on the way to Green Cove Springs. There were no guardrails as I recall, and the main lighting other than a few bare lightbulbs strung between poles in the 'pits' was an old Army surplus searchlight mounted on a trailer and directed down the track behind the starting line. I was in drag race paradise. Along with quite a large crowd, we were standing right at the edge of the designated dragstrip within probably 20 or 30 feet of the cars as they staged and blasted off into nitro nirvana. I have never been the same. The details of other things that happened that night are fuzzy, but I do remember being there. If memory serves me correctly, I think Greer beat Schartman two out of three. About a month later, we went back (I think my dad even liked it, though he never let on) to the same track and saw Arnie Beswick take on Shirl Greer.

    "I have often wondered what ever became of Thunderbolt Dragway and when it ceased to operate. I am not sure of the exact location of it, but I believe it was on U.S. 17."

    Like Fremont, Thunderbolt Dragway was on a Naval Outlying Landing Field, in this case the abandoned Fleming Island NOLF. According to the Web site Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields, the track got its name from a large number of P-47 Thunderbolt war planes that were housed there. Fleming Island was on the west side of Route 17, along the west shore of the St. Johns River, approximately 10 miles South of Jacksonville Naval Air Station. Drag racing historian Bret Kepner says that the dragstrip was run on the topmost of the facility's four runways (again, brilliantly highlighted here) and that no presence of the airfield can be found today as it has been covered by – what else? – housing.
     
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  8. still more info...no pics....
    Clay County Memoirs: Thunderbolt hosted drag racing heroes


    By The Times-Union
    ,

    Thunderbolt Raceway, the late 1950s and '60s drag racing track on Fleming Island, was aptly named. The rumble of finely tuned powerful engines echoed for miles and on moonless nights a hazy dome of light glowed on the horizon from anywhere in the county.

    Organizers Burch Stump, Ed Taylor and Ben Zellner loved cars and kids and like many in Green Cove Springs were concerned for the future of the area with the imminent loss of the U.S. Navy Base. The economy of the county was sure to take a hit meaning, among other things, fewer jobs and more lay-about time for teenage boys' mischief, such as drag racing on the roads.

    All three men were committed to doing a job right. The goal was to have a track that ranked at the top of the rural facilities popping up all over the southeast in small towns in Georgia, South and North Carolina. They put their money where their mouths were.

    The availability of a deserted World War II airfield just south of Florida 220 with its miles of paved surface and convenient water supply put them leagues ahead of the competition. Some tracks provided dangerously little stopping space, narrow, pothole-pitted tracks and drivers were required to haul needed water in scrounged demi-jugs intended for moonshine.

    Thunderbolt boasted a top of the line "Christmas Tree," a technically sophisticated starting system. Every car was checked by a certified mechanic for safety and classified to assure the fairness of each contest. Almost immediately, challenges that were usually settled on the back roads, sending citizens and livestock into the ditches for safety, were "taken to the track." Adolescent challenges were reconciled with official standards and under adult supervision. Newspapers published race results and WAPE (95.1 FM) announced live from the track.

    The quality of the operation brought the big names and events. Vehicles stretched bumper-to-bumper down the narrow, two-lane U.S. 17 past the Big Ape radio station and turned west into the woods at the towering steel thunderbolt piercing the ground.

    Fans rubbed shoulders in the pits with the greats of the sport and watched men like Connie Kalitta, Chris Karamesines, Don Prudhomme and Pete Robinson begin and soar into legends. Art Arfons lit the skies over the island twice with demonstrations of his jet-engine-powered car streaking a quarter-mile in about five seconds.

    Big Daddy Don Garlits was a real crowd pleaser and had them all holding their breaths the night he took a wild ride into the high brush. His Swamp Rat I blew an engine at the timing lights, skidded on its own oil and went backwards through a fence and into a field. The night was pitch black but they found him quickly by his roars of aggravation.

    In those days Garlits traveled to races with the car on an open flatbed truck followed by a pick-up truck or a sedan with tools and parts in the trunk. He could build a car and actually challenge the champions for $1,500 to $2,000. To make a run these days costs $10,000 and a crash means the loss of a $250,000 car.

    Garlits broke the magical 170-mph barrier in the quarter-mile in 1957 at Brooksvile and proved wrong the California gurus of drag, who said it couldn't be done. He was the hero of every rural southern man or boy.

    Acknowledgements: Big Daddy Don Garlits, The Burch Stump family, Mary Zellner, Bob Price, Ronnie Robinson, Clay County Photographic Archives.

    Clay County resident Mary Jo McTammany writes a regular column for Clay County Line.
     
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  9. Wow! This sure brings back memories of growing up in Jax and going to T-bolt on the weekends.
    The track was backlit by two big WWII surplus searchlites, that would go from idle to full light when the cars staged. Starting was by a liberated traffic light hanging across the track, no Chrondek type tree.
    Lots of match races. First time that I ever saw an altered wheelbase Mopar AFX, with Hilborn stacks through the hood, the original "funny" car.
    I'll look for pics, but would imagine that they've long been lost.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
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  10. jangleguy
    Joined: Dec 26, 2004
    Posts: 2,668

    jangleguy
    Member

    Wow, thanks guys! Some of this info I had, and some is news to me. Extra bonus thanks to those who have vowed to dig out old photos! I have some things to deal with today, but will back at work tonight. Thank you again for making time to pass along your stories. Much appreciated! You're all hot rod heroes.
    Scotty
     
  11. jangleguy
    Joined: Dec 26, 2004
    Posts: 2,668

    jangleguy
    Member

    hotrodA: Please let me know if you find your photos!
    K9Racer: Eddie Roche's sites haven't been updated in years,and nothing works on them. Found an old e-mail address, but it's dead, too. Any idea if Eddie is still kicking?

    Thanks again guys!
     
  12. jangleguy
    Joined: Dec 26, 2004
    Posts: 2,668

    jangleguy
    Member

  13. k9racer
    Joined: Jan 20, 2003
    Posts: 3,117

    k9racer
    Member

    One more to try. This guy knows every one in all types Vintage photos/ history. Try Mike Bell from the Atlanta Ga area.He can tell you about Eddie. Here on the HAMB Tom l 24 from calif knows Bob and Hila Sweet and has contact info. One last from Daytona Beach is Glen McGlonie He know all about Fla racing.
     
  14. jangleguy
    Joined: Dec 26, 2004
    Posts: 2,668

    jangleguy
    Member

    Hey, thanks again, k9racer! I'll get on these leads ASAP.
    Meanwhile, get this: Last night (out of sheer desperation), I sent an e-mail to the Clay County Archives, asking for photos and/or info on Thunderbolt Dragway. You know, just so I could say I tried. I awoke this morning to an inbox overflowing with high res vintage photos and documents! It turns out that my message was received by a drag racer who works there! I'll say it again: These connections no longer surprise me, but never cease to amaze me.
     
  15. Dont keep us hanging.
    Post some of the photo's
     
  16. hog mtn dave
    Joined: Jul 14, 2004
    Posts: 1,329

    hog mtn dave
    Member

    Glad you found some pics. A friend of mine was from Green Cove Springs. He passed away but his buddies still live in the area. I think they were all in Nam during the Thunderbolt days. I'll try to track them down anyway.
     
  17. jangleguy
    Joined: Dec 26, 2004
    Posts: 2,668

    jangleguy
    Member

    Speedy: I'm not supposed to post anything until the book is published. BUT I may have to, so you guys can help me identify some of these Florida cars I've never seen before. Stay tuned...
     
  18. gatlinD281
    Joined: Sep 8, 2015
    Posts: 1

    gatlinD281

    My dad raced there for years. As a matter of fact he raced right up until a few years ago when he got miningitus. He is still turning wrenches and going to the track with me every weekend. Every now and then at Green Cove Dragway he runs into someone and tells a story from the Thunderbolt days. Flat towing his 55 Chevy and match races, national events and such going on. Please keep us in the loop about the book, he would love to get his hands on it.
     
  19. Tony Smith
    Joined: Sep 12, 2015
    Posts: 1

    Tony Smith

    I grew up in Jacksonville & had a '66 Chevelle SS396 and am familiar with the old Thunderbolt Drag Strip- don't have any pictures but I have a couple of leads for you.

    I would start with Don Proctor at Jerry Hamm Chevrolet (previously Gordon Thompson Chevrolet) he has been there since the 60's and knows many of the old guys that are still around.

    I believe that you can find a listing for Jimmy Austin on Labelle Dr. in Jacksonville if you GOOGLE him - he ran as The James Gang and was Jacksonville's leading Funny Car guy- I remember him having "Roho" an altered wheelbase Chevy 2 and the '67 Camaro the "Plastic Car" back in the day.

    Good luck- Hope this helps.
     
  20. Lewis Trammell
    Joined: Feb 14, 2017
    Posts: 3

    Lewis Trammell

    First and foremost Thunderbolt was not in Orange Park or Fleming Island. It was a few mile south of Green Cove Springs on the west side of Hwy 17. It was an old army airfield. They have built a housing
     
  21. Lewis Trammell
    Joined: Feb 14, 2017
    Posts: 3

    Lewis Trammell

     
  22. Lewis Trammell
    Joined: Feb 14, 2017
    Posts: 3

    Lewis Trammell

    They built a new school in Fleming Island and named it Thunderbolt.....lol. It has to be at least 8 to 10 miles north of where Thunderbolt was<SMH>.
     
  23. Race Artist
    Joined: Feb 9, 2008
    Posts: 950

    Race Artist
    Member

    Hello,

    I saw your thread on Thunderbolt Raceway near Jacksonville, FL. Old friends, The Fermier Bros, Bobby & Harry, from NJ ran there when they moved to FL. Harry later opened a speed shop in the Jax area. Both have since passed away. I have a few pictures from Thunderbolt but don't have them scanned as of yet. Some are from the Fermier Bros., others unknown source. Attached is the '62 Ford they ran at Thunderbolt and all over the east and at the NHRA nationals a few years.

    Email me at racenart@optonline.net of find me on Facebook ...
    Joel Naprstek
    https://www.behance.net/JFNStudios
     

    Attached Files:

  24. MadMikey
    Joined: Jul 13, 2018
    Posts: 4

    MadMikey

    Jangleguy,
    I have an 8mm film that is labeled Thunderbolt Race Track. I'm trying to get info on it and that's when I found this post. Maybe you or someone else here can help identify this location. Here's a link to it...

    Thanks!!
    MadMikey
     
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  25. s55mercury66
    Joined: Jul 6, 2009
    Posts: 3,617

    s55mercury66
    Member
    from SW Wyoming

    Art Malone at the 1:00 minute mark? Kinda looks like his ride from 1963.
     
  26. Boy, that sure looks like what I remember Thunderbolt looking like. The fragile looking announcer/timing tower on the left, and the pine and sugar sand Florida landscape. Just don't recall that particular race day. Very cool video, none the less. Thanks for sharing it.
     
  27. MadMikey
    Joined: Jul 13, 2018
    Posts: 4

    MadMikey

    Thanks for the info!
     
  28. MadMikey
    Joined: Jul 13, 2018
    Posts: 4

    MadMikey

    Thanks! So that was in Florida? The box that the film was in just said Thunderbolt Race Track.
     
  29. MadMikey
    Joined: Jul 13, 2018
    Posts: 4

    MadMikey

    The Clay County Archivist in Florida liked the film I posted and offered to send me some photos from their archive on Thunderbolt Raceway. I created a movie slide show of them. Here is the link. I hope you enjoy!
     
    loudbang likes this.

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