On Tour: Midwestern Outlaw Tracks
By Jeff Burk
Photos by Jeff Burk and Charles Jolliff

hen the terms "outlaw" and "eighth-mile drag racing" creep into bench racing sessions, the area that comes to mind almost immediately is the Southeastern United States. A lot of magazines and newspapers, including DRO, have devoted space to some of the more colorful tracks of the South, but the fact is that the South doesn't have a lock on outlaw tracks where racing is much more important than style.

The Midwest has some unique and really entertaining tracks where hardcore racers and fans still prefer a day of drag racing, beer and burgers over "entertainment," expensive tickets, and margaritas out of a box. So, after listening to too many stories about tracks we had only heard of but never seen, this reporter decided to take a road trip with old friend, DRO contributor and race track historian, Bret Kepner, to visit some tracks here in the Midwest that fit the "Outlaw" theme.

One thing I found very interesting in talking to some locals at several of the tracks was that at some time or the other they seemed to think that some of the owners of the tracks had been incarcerated. That's probably an urban drag racing legend but it certainly made for interesting conversation and added to the "Outlaw" reputation of the tracks.

We left St. Louis on a beautiful Sunday morning with the end destination being George Ray's Outlaw Wildcat Drag strip in Paragould, Arkansas with stops along the way to visit a few other tracks some that had long ceased to be active, others that were on life support and a few that were just haulin' ass.

As we drove South on I-55 we sped by Pevely, MO. That is where the now defunct I-55 Dragway is located. Back in the 1980s for a while I was the weekly announcer at that track when it was owned by the late Troy Smotherman. It was a hookin' but viciously short eighth mile where, if a car couldn't get stopped, it ran across the main road into the track.

Whenever you drove into the track, as you crossed by the sand trap you always had to keep an eye out for a race car possibly crossing in front of you. It is currently being used as parking for the adjacent dirt track and the occasional swap meet.

The next stop was about 30 miles on down the road to Ste. Genevieve, MO where Kepner directed me to an abandoned all-concrete eighth mile track surrounded by a golf course. Funny how once you start looking around you find a lot of concrete dragstrips which prove that Billy Meyer's Texas Motorplex definitely wasn't the first one.

St. Louis racers like Bill Kuhlmann, Jerry Hass and others ran the St. Genevieve track in the Sixties and most of them tell stories about golf balls from the adjacent fairways flying onto the track during racing.  It was the fastest track in the area and even today standing at one end you can see why. It is distinctly uphill from halfway down the track looking toward the old starting line. Just for grins we stepped off the width of the track and it was just a hair over 23 feet wide with about a foot drop-off. The old tower is still standing as a signpost for the old track.

The next track was further down I-55 at Benton, MO. (not to be confused with another "Outlaw" eighth-mile track in Benton, Ill., where the old Burkster and his partner Dave Koehler once ran our Econo dragster and had to pick up the front end to turn it around—but that's another story.) Benton is also an eighth-mile, non-sanctioned drag strip and is located next to a circle track. It has a nice looking tower, small grandstands and looked like it is fairly well lit.

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