Disaster Video: Incredible Footage Of The Yellow River Drag Strip Calamity Has Surfaced – 50 Years Ago, 11 Killed


Disaster Video: Incredible Footage Of The Yellow River Drag Strip Calamity Has Surfaced – 50 Years Ago, 11 Killed

50 years ago the worst disaster in drag racing occurred at a little known, little spoken about track about 40 miles outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Yellow River Drag Strip was like so many places in drag racing during the 1960s. It was a very rustic track that consisted of scantly more than the strip itself, some chainlink fence, a couple of berms to give spectators an elevated video and a crummy public address system. It was the kind of place that had been outpaced by the advancement of the machines involved in the sport and the kind of place that people had been used to coming to for years without so much as a care in the world regarding safety. It wasn’t their fault as much as it was the complacency of everyone involved that allowed for what you will see below to happen.

On that March day in 1969 Houston Platt and Frank Oglesby were match racing their crude, early funny cars and the place was jammed with an estimated 5,000 spectators. As you will see below, Platt’s car gets out of shape at the end of the run, likely at a speed between 160 and 180mph before turning left, climbing the embankment and basically running straight into the crowd.

11 people were killed at the track and a 12th died in the hospital days later. Upwards of 50 more people were seriously injured and the ensuing panic at the facility made it largely impossible to get ambulances in to help those in grave need of it. Spectators took to loading the wounded in their cars and hustling them to area hospitals, some as far away as Atlanta.

The story made national headlines and was covered by the major news gathering organizations of the day. It painted drag racing in a horrific light.

Read the AP story on Yellow River from 1969 HERE

But here’s the thing. 1969 was the television age. It would be only months later that the world would watch people walk on the moon. To this point in history the only people who ever saw what happened at the track were spectators or viewers of a fairly short-lived news program on NBC called “First Tuesday”. This was the network’s attempt to take on 60 Minutes, the preeminent news magazine show of that age and it’s name indicated its air schedule. The first Tuesday of every month.

Somehow, they got a copy of the tape below and aired it with a voice over describing the scene and what happened. Obviously a fan shot this video and while its quality is suspect, the fact that we are seeing anything from the day is simply astounding.

The person who posted this video on YouTube said that it only exists as as friend’s father would record various segments of news programs at that time (We’re guessing the guy was an A/V buff to have that tech 50 years ago) and living in the Atlanta area, this segment stirred his interest. As best we know this is the only existing footage of the Yellow River Drag Strip that has ever see the light of day.

A nearly incomprehensible disaster in today’s day and age and the sport’s darkest day by any measure.

Press play below to see the footage that aired on NBC First Tuesday –


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14 thoughts on “Disaster Video: Incredible Footage Of The Yellow River Drag Strip Calamity Has Surfaced – 50 Years Ago, 11 Killed

  1. jerry z

    I’ve been going to drag strips for over 45 yrs and this is the first time of reading about this incident. Never been to a track without some type of guard rail. Just sad reading this story.

    Reply
  2. Cletus T Rickenbacher 3rd

    These days the track is a trailer park called Riverside Estates. The main road is the old dragstrip. The track is parallel to the Yellow River and about 200-300 feet from I-20. Only the old timers in the area remember the track.

    Reply
    1. Matt Cramer

      I used to live in Covington, and some of my wife’s family are still in the area. Want me to get some photos of the site next time I’m there?

      The accident was long before I moved to the area, but it came up in local newspapers when somebody in the nearby town of Social Circle proposed building a dragstrip.

      Reply
  3. Blu67RS

    The story we always heard was this: the locals would set their beer cans on the edge of the track. They would then run out & grab their beer as the cars rushed by. Just as poor Houston popped his chute, a guy ran out to the track & was caught up in the deployed chute. This is what caused the immediate turn into the crowd. Imagine having to live with that …..

    Reply
  4. Bill Butte

    It had nothing to do with the track conditions but without a doubt there was a major lack of safety measures

    Reply
  5. Greg

    Car Craft had an article about this a few years back. A few witnesses claimed a spectator dropped his beer on the track. When he bent over to pick it up he got tangled up in Pratts chute.

    Reply
  6. Don

    Ok now look at some of the no prep races and the hundreds near the starting line. Who is to say something couldn’t happen?

    Reply
    1. ratty

      It’s just a matter of time when it will happen… The only difference between today and yesterday, is yesterday we were just learning about what it takes to put on a safe event for both the racers and the spectators, and we learned the hard way… But we learned. Today we know exactly how stupid it is to allow crowds onto the track, and yet the tracks that allow it don’t care, because they see the $$$$ of the No Prep and Grudge events, their desire to pack the stands and bring in the crowds, makes them turn a blind eye to how dangerous it is to allow a hundred idiots onto the track, emulating that street racer scene. They don’t care about the safety of the spectators, they just want a cut of that money. They figure they’ll risk the throw of the dice, maybe it won’t be their track where scores will get killed one day, it’ll just be some other track, so until then, they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Personally, who cares? It’s their lives, their choice, but it’ll be another dark mark against drag racing in general when that eventual bad day happens, so we should care. (Also note, it’s not just No Prep and Grudge events, though those are most obvious that flaunt basic track safety… it’s many other events that allow way too many crew members, and their families and friends onto the track as well).

      Reply
    2. SA

      EXACTLY!! Just waiting for the fateful day when a car has a major explosion/malfunction on the starting line and the sea of spectators and \”crew\” are all engulfed in flames or shrapnel…I mean, most times at SGMP you can\’t even see the cars until they are lining up for all the people around them…

      Reply
  7. Reg

    50 years ago I was a ten years old. I had climbed up in a tree on the other side of the track to get a better view of the races. So I vividly ember the whole thing including running across the track and seeing the bodies.

    Reply
  8. Tom

    I can remember going to OCIR in the mid 70’s and a 10 second Camaro made a right turn about 400 to 500 ft out and it climbed the armco and ended up through the chain link and hit the bottom of the stands. Fortunately there wasn’t anybody in the stands at that point so it was just property damage. And the Camaro went back to the pits in the jaws of a front end loader! I imagined that track management must have started thinking seriously about upgrades at that point!

    Reply
  9. old man

    Yes it will happen and it will be bad and the track owner needs jail time bottom line its his to run safe.I will bet most of us have been at a track when the tower shuts it down untill people get behind the fence.I hate to see drag racing take a hit everyone i no hates no prep all it does is save the track owner money.The racers should take part also if you need 17 to hold you in water box 8 to back you up 2 to pump the doors 5 to stick on go pros.You are not the one that will get hurt or die it may be your friends or family think about it.

    Reply

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