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Burn Rubber
Published Monday, July 20, 2009 7:15 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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From the roar of the engines, to the intoxicating smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber; racing stimulates the senses. While some may not truly appreciate the sport of drag racing -- those that do race love it.

Don Benton of Hampton, for example, has been racing since he was a kid. He used to race his dad on tractors every day as they headed home on the farm and always lost. He finally realized his dad would tinker with the engines to make his tractor faster to beat Don.

"One day we went home and we raced and I beat daddy because I knew his trick and I have been hooked ever since," he said.

A pair of trucks pull up to the starting line for a race at Dorchester Dragway.

For 25 years, Benton and others like him have been racing at Dorchester Dragway, north of Ridgeville on Hwy 78. Every Sunday night, people come out to race at the track -- some for fun, some for money and others just to test their vehicles.

Billy Semken of Summerville backs his Chevy truck off the trailer and gets it ready to race. It took him about four years to build his truck from the ground up and he spends his time racing across the Lowcountry when not working in his automotive shop. He built the truck as a present to himself for staying sober and it snow balled from there he said.

"I would have too much time on my hands if I wasn't racing... this keeps me out of trouble," he said referring to his desire to stay sober.

Billy Semken of Summerville checks the air pressure on his racing slicks before the start of racing.

As Semken tests tires and charges batteries, other trailers file in along side him carrying all sorts of cars and trucks. The roar of engines can be heard across the parking lot as vehicles are unloaded and tuned in the pit area.

Before long, cars are lining up at the track for their first run of the day.

Kayvon Davis peaks through a hole in the fence to watch some racing.

Crowds gather to watch as each car, truck and motorcycle prepare for their run down the track by rolling through a puddle of water and stomping on the gas pedal to spin their tires. Smoke starts pouring off and blanketing the entire area as the wonderful smell of burnt rubber fills the air. They all perform the same ritual to make their tires sticky which gives them traction.

Basically, by the end of a night, a couple hundred dollars in ground up rubber sits near the starting line and everyone's clothes smell of smoke.

Ryan DeLee watches as cars pull up to the staging lights while watching the computer that tracks their time.

The cars line up at a 'light tree' that flashes a green light when they should go and each car hurls their driver towards the finish line 1/8 of a mile away. Quickly, a crew comes out and sweeps the fallen rubber to the side and another group lines up to perform the same deed.

Crews keep the track clean between each race.

Between the races, some tweak their engines to perform better or to compensate for hot and muggy conditions. Semken explained that racing depends on many variables including weather conditions. Racers tune their cars to match the conditions and hopefully improve the time it takes for them to travel down the track.

Shawn Moody of Ravenel works on his '95 Mustang GT in between races.

During the early part of the evening, before the sun sets, few cars venture out onto the track. Many racers wait for the best possible conditions before pulling onto the track. Semken said on some nights, cars are still pulling through the dragway entrance at midnight because that is the best time to race; when the air is cool.

Smoke pours off the tires as they spin to make the tires stick to the track better.

Those not racing line the fences next to the track and watch as the cars fly by. While some sit in bleachers, others pull their vehicles up to the fence and unload ice chests full of food.

J. J. Jinks of Beaufort and his friends fire up a grill as they watch the races. It is cheaper than buying food from the vendors he explains as he cooks the food. Many, like Jinks, come to cheer on friends who are racing and see other friends at the track.

JJ Jinks of Beaufort prepares the barbeque pit while watching friends race at the dragway.

As the sun sets, the track gets busy. A line of vehicles waits in staging lanes for their turn to race. A set of friends line up next to each other so they can race next. They laugh as they throw verbal insults at each other about whose car is faster. As they pull up to the starting line, another group cheers them on along the fences.

After the race is over, drivers collect a slip of paper: time slips that tell them how quickly they crossed the line and how fast they were traveling. Guys sit around comparing time slips before pulling up to the starting line for another race.

A truck lines up on the line as the smoke clears from a burn out.

As the night grew cooler, the more crowded it became. Many were pulling their cars off the trailer for the first time getting ready to race. At this time of night, many were competing in grudge matches. Basically a head to head race where the winner gets bragging rights over the loser.

Jamie Gore of Goose Creek waits in line for his turn to race.

For most drag racers, this is a hobby they love. Most build their own cars and race them a couple of weekends a month saying the fun of launching off the line and flying down the track is a form of stress release. It is an expensive hobby they claim as they run down the cost of engine parts and all the tires.

One gentleman pointed at a car saying he spent $30,000 on his engine alone. My car cost less than that... guess I'll just burn rubber and head home.


Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (3)

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009 10:53 PM

They really do need to clean the place up a bit.Why not fix the time boards so you can actually see what kind of time racers are running? Tone down the music a little. Make the place somewhere you wouldn't mind bringing your kids or your wife for that matter. Like Race Fan said update your website! It's 2009 for petes sake!

Posted by: Mustang Racer
Monday, July 27, 2009 1:19 PM

For many years my husband & I use to go to the "strip". Once we had children we had to stop. It is not family oriented, especially after dark. There are drugs, drunks, fights, stabbings, shootings. This drag strip has truly built a reputation for itself, there fore alot of people no longer go there, other than to gamble/bet on races or to sell bootlegged things, not related to the dragstrip or drag racing. I agree with Race Fan, they do need to do A LOT of cleaning up there and they would be surprised at a better turn out, not only of spectators, but racers too. We would, as would others, would love to come back, and even bring our drag vehicles, along with our friends vehicles too. Instead for now, we'll just keep going to Bowman or to Midway. Hopefully one day it wil be better, being it is one of the closest one right now to the Lowcountry area.

Posted by: Drag Racing Momma
Thursday, July 23, 2009 6:35 PM

I love the drag races, but sure wish they would clean up that dump. I stopped going to that track since the PA system and timer never seem to work. If they do they were not turned on, and the bathroom is always a mess. Of course, the music is usually blasting behind the bleachers, so you wouldn't hear anything anyway. I?ve never been to a racetrack were they sold non-race related shoes, shirts and music CD?s. Now, I have to admit, I usually get there about 5:00pm and leave about 9:00pm due the above complaints. Maybe it's a different world after that. I know it?s a family owned business, but it's sad they don?t clean up their business. It?s got huge potential. PS: Update your website. Clean it up and they will come!

Posted by: Race Fan

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