The old Orangeburg Dragstrip reopened last weekend as the South Carolina Motorplex, drawing an estimated 10,000 people.
The crowd may be the largest since the racetrack opened in 1961. The new owner, Jeff Biegun, believes it was the start of something big.
"I think the race last weekend drew people from 400 to 500 to a 600-mile radius," Biegun said. He envisions it drawing folks from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
South Carolina Motorplex is gearing up to become the center of racing activity across the state and the entire Southeast, Biegun said.
"South Carolina is a hotbed for racing so why not put it someplace where there is a large interest?" Biegun said.
Biegun has big plans for venue.
Just for the 2018 calendar year, there are already 24 events booked including the ADRL race April 13-14, a Super Chevy weekend, a fun Ford weekend and Mopar weekend, as well as two VW races.
Other events such as swap meets, car shows and flea markets could also be a part of the 2018 season.
"We are looking for a place to bring people together in the outlying area and give them a venue where their family can come and feel safe and enjoy themselves," he said.
It will also be a place where individuals will be able to see top-notch racing, Biegun said.
"They will see top fuel cars, front engine drag strip, nitro funny cars, nostalgic pro stock, a ton of promod cars," he said.
Biegun is also the owner of the American Drag Racing League as well as RJS Racing Equipment and Performance 2 Way Racing Communications.
He said the former Orangeburg Dragstrip, located at 194 Dragstrip Road, attracted him because the American Drag Racing League has had to lease race tracks for its events over the years.
"One of the challenges I have had is finding good, quality race tracks to go have our races at," he said. "I said ‘Gee, this would be a great place to have your home base.’"
And so instead of leasing tracks, Biegun decided to purchase the dragstrip back in November for a little under $1 million from Buddy Boozer.
"If we are going to go out and spend hard cash to lease tracks, well, why not do it at your own track?" Biegun said. "I think it is a good, solid business move to do."
But Biegun noticed the venue had seen its better days and needed a lot of help.
"We have gone from one end of the property to the other to make it safe, usable and appealing," Biegun said. "The racing business is changing.
"It is not like it used to be 20 years ago. We are trying to create a family atmosphere here."
Biegun removed about 1,700 feet of guardrail at the 3,000-foot track.
"Guardrails are just a very dangerous thing for race cars because they act like can openers," Biegun said. "We replaced those all with concrete walls. We replaced the timing system."
The new Daktronics timing system provides race fans with a clear, digital “top of the line” scoreboard, Biegun said.
The track also has a newly refurbished race tower, sound system and about 15 acres of expanded parking areas.
New fencing and security has been added to the property.
Other areas have also received a facelift.
"We rebuilt the concessions area, cleaned it all up and redid the bathrooms," Biegun said. New lighting has also been put in place.
"We are making a huge investment here,” he said.
There are also tailgating areas, and plans for picnic and playground areas as well as additional bathrooms for spectators and showers and bathrooms for racers.
Biegun has also purchased 260 acres adjacent to the racetrack with plans to use about 60 acres for a dirt track for motorcycles and a mud bog pit to be constructed in the next six to eight months.
The venue is also in the process of applying for a beer and wine license.
There will also be a new management structure and staff to help push the new track forward.
Biegun said all the improvements will be aimed at making the venue safe and family-friendly.
"We are trying to gain interest by not pricing people out," he said. Pricing will be based on car load and not on individuals.
The kick-off event for the new South Carolina Motorplex was held Feb. 23-24, with the Discovery Channel filming at the race track as part of its Street Outlaws series, “No Prep Kings.”
The show is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel in about four to six weeks. It airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays.
There were so many people last weekend that the gates had to be closed when the venue was at maximum capacity.
"There were a lot of people on Saturday who decided to buy a ticket we did not have available," Biegun said.
Biegun also noted the promoter of the event required everyone -- even general admission -- to receive an armband and to have their tickets scanned. The process slowed down traffic and caused gridlock.
He said the issue will be rectified at the next event.
"We will do absolutely no wristbands for general admission and we will reconfigure the parking area where we will park everybody first, let them come to the front and then get their tickets scanned," Biegun said. "We are going to come up with a far better way to get cars in and out of here."
The roar of engines has been heard at the drag strip since its opening in 1961.
At that time, there was no timing equipment. Everything was started by a man getting out in front of the cars and dropping his hands.
There was no guard rail to protect spectators from the cars back then. The original track featured racing over a quarter-mile, with another quarter-mile of stopping distance.
In 1972, brothers Zane, Tommy and Jimmy DeWitt purchased the track from original owners T.J. Ashe, Ezel Hutto and Nick Davis.
The DeWitt brothers installed guard rails and brought in timing equipment that was built in Leesville.
During this time, racing took off, with cars getting faster and running the quarter-mile in the high 10-second range.
The track saw the likes of the DeWitts, Houston Platt, Zeigler Chevrolet, the Brickles at Orangeburg Auto, Buddy Boozer, Sonny Tindal and the Smiths of North.
Don Garrick purchased Orangeburg Drag Strip from the DeWitt brothers in 1982. Garrick continued with the Thursday night racing, along with Sunday bracket racing. He also started running motorcycle events.
Garrick sold the track to Charles and Johnny Dowey. The Doweys tore up the old asphalt and converted the track to all concrete for better traction.
In 2001, Jimmy and Zane DeWitt re-purchased the track and continued to feature similar races for the next five years.
In 2006, Buddy Boozer purchased the track with the intention of refurbishing it.
With the help of the Doweys and their heavy equipment, the track was completely torn up as well as the buildings on the site.
The only exception was the tower, which the Doweys obtained from a prison they demolished in Columbia.
A new racing surface, concrete guard rails and a shut-down area were put in place at the time.
New timing equipment, scoreboards, a cafe and restrooms were also added.
For more information about the South Carolina Motorplex, visit www.southcarolinamotorplex.com.