On the banks of the Barren River, you’ll find one of the most distinctive venues in all of drag racing, Beech Bend Raceway. The track has features you won’t find anywhere else, such as covered grandstands and a rollercoaster as a backdrop — but that’s just part of what makes the facility so distinctive. With a wide range of events, Beech Bend Raceway has become a bucket list track for any drag racer who wants a unique experience.
Before a racecar ever turned a tire at the track the property was first known as Beech Bend Amusement Park, founded by Charles Garvin. After establishing the park in the early 1940s, Garvin began to add attractions to the location to help it grow. The first motorized vehicles to race at Beech Bend were actually motorcycles on a 3/8-mile dirt oval flat track that had been built on the grounds of the park.
Broc Porter has been a fixture at Beech Bend since he was 10 years old and began working at the track when he was just 14. Now, Porter is the track manager of the facility. He adds some more details about the history of the track.
“It wasn’t until 1946 when the first motorcycle flat track race was held and the first stock car race wasn’t contested until 1948. The drag strip came later, with the first race held in September of 1956. When the drag strip was first built it was actually dirt and was half a mile long, including the shutdown area.”
During the next decade after the drag strip was built the park saw rapid growth and huge attendance numbers across the board. When the 1970s rolled around the park began to struggle and was closed, then re-opened before closing again early in the 1980s. Things were looking grim for the facility until 1984 when Dallas Jones and his wife, Alfreda — Porters’ grandparents — purchased the drag strip and oval track. They were able to turn the two tracks around as they conducted a number of successful events. Dallas eventually purchased the entire facility, including the amusement park along with the campgrounds.
It wasn’t long after Dallas took over Beech Bend that Broc started going to the track as a youngster. He fell in love with the stock car racing going on at the facility and began working for the track, running results sheets to his grandmother for payouts, taking tech cards to the control tower, and even working at the concession stand. Broc eventually started his official on-track duties as his uncle Clay’s assistant on the flagman’s stand helping with the flags.
Eventually, Broc found his way to the drag racing side of things.
“I began helping on the track crew at the dragstrip when I was probably about 14 years old. At first, I started out working the waterbox, then the staging lanes, and eventually the starting line. From time to time would still work in the concession stand cooking or serving during some of the big events in the early days. Now I spend most of my time in the tower helping run races, riding around on the scooter checking on everyone, or talking to racers and friends,” Broc says.
Broc’s uncle Clay Jones (son of track owner Dallas Jones) was an important part of the success that Beech Bend Raceway experienced after Dallas purchased the facility. Growing up, Clay spent a lot of time at Windy Hollow Dragway, also owned by his family, so he had plenty of experience in how a track should be run. Clay even spent time behind the wheel of various race cars, so the sport of drag racing was more than just a way to generate income.
“Clay was dedicated to the success of Beech Bend Raceway and could do anything needed at the track to run a race. He was often seen working as part of the track crew at the starting line, running the water box, or even helping out in the staging lanes where he could greet racers and their families prior to their runs. In a pinch, Clay would even run the computer or announce if we were short-staffed during an event. Clay understood that when you ran a dragstrip you had to be able to do everything, because you never knew what would be needed from one raceday to the next,” Broc says.
Clay passed away in 2014 and it left a hole in the heart of the Western Kentucky drag racing community.
Broc has been a part of Beech Bend Raceway long enough to see some of the big improvements, as the track has come a long way since it’s days of dirt drag racing back in the 1950s. Most fans and racers don’t realize the track actually faced in a different direction until early in the 1970s when it was changed to its current position. If you look at the outside of the track around the eighth-mile mark you can actually see a patch of the old racing surface pointed toward where the current pits are.
It was during the time period that the track was moved that the permanent walls were added, along with the iconic covered grandstands. The chair-back, covered grandstands are a unique feature to Beech Bend and give the track a very rustic and nostalgic feel unlike any other. Not to mention, they make enjoying the races on a hot Kentucky day more enjoyable. According to Broc, the covered grandstands actually came from Sulphur Dell Stadium in Nashville,
Tennessee, where minor league baseball games were held until 1969.
When Dallas took over the drag strip he immediately began pumping money into the facility for improvements to attract more racers and bigger events. The first big project he tackled was adding a new timing tower behind the burnout box. During this time period, only the first 300-feet of the track surface was concrete, with the rest asphalt. Since Dallas wanted Beech Bend to be a top-tier track he decided it was time to make some improvements to the track again.
“Prior to the 2006 season is when we completely resurfaced and extended the concrete to just past the 1/8-mile finish line. The concrete walls used to end at the 1/4-mile finish line and it was steel guardrail beyond that, so we upgraded the walls to be taller and stretched them all the way to the last turnoff before the 2006 season. What was originally the first turnoff was sealed off during these upgrades and that was all we did for a little while due to the cost,” Brock says.
These investments helped Beech Bend take on big events like the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion, large NHRA sportsman races, the NMRA All-Ford World Finals, LS Fest, the Outlaw Street Car Reunion and much more. All of these races pack the grounds with participants from all over the country and fill the grandstands with spectators. Dallas and his team have put even more money in the facility in recent years to keep the upgrades flowing to ensure racers have a good time at the track.
“In 2016, Dallas spent over $1 million dollars repaving the entire pit area and access roads to improve the racing experience. We also completely redid the racing surface prior to the 2019 season by grinding the existing concrete and repaving from the end of the concrete all the way to the end of the shutdown area,” Broc explains.
For Broc, all of the time spent working on the track’s upgrades and managing events has been worth it, as he has been able to help others enjoy the sport of drag racing at an amazing venue. And to him, that’s what it’s all about.
“On any given weekend I have more friends at the track than anywhere else. Most die-hard drag racers would probably agree that’s how their lives are, too. I like seeing everyone at the track having a good time doing what they enjoy the most. Whether it’s the familiar faces that support so many events in the bleachers or the racers that you see weekly, it’s a camaraderie that is unmatched anywhere else. It’s hard to describe to outsiders the amount of time and effort that racers and track staff dedicate to events week in and week out, and I can’t thank our great staff enough for all that they do to make Beech Bend Raceway great,” Broc says.
Beech Bend Raceway has become a destination racing location with a variety of events. Jones and his family have built something truly special at Beech Bend with a true family atmosphere, and all of these things help provide a fun experience, but Broc is ready to push Beech Bend to a higher level with more improvements and events.
“I would like to see us remodel the current tower in the future to be a little more modern and have some updated technology included. We’re kind of locked into the current footprint because of how everything’s laid out, so making it bigger isn’t an option. I would also like to see oval racing make a comeback here — the last race was held back in 2014. With all of the different events we have at the drag strip I think we could expand even more elsewhere on the property to host pulling events and even motocross, as well, to give our visitors even more to check out. Hopefully, we continue to be blessed with successful events in the coming years as I believe drag racing is alive and well here at Beech Bend Raceway,” Broc says.
Dallas Jones not only saved a drag strip but in doing so created one of the most iconic and recognizable in all of drag racing. By bringing passionate people in to help keep things moving forward, Dallas has ensured Beech Bend will be around for decades to come — because it’s hard to top the scenery at Beech Bend Raceway or the memories you can create anytime you race there.