This weekend, racers competed in the final motorsports event at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC). The historic venue announced in May it would close this summer, the property sold with plans for redevelopment.
General Manager Steve Zacharias and a group of partners have since purchased Florence Motor Speedway, and will get back on track at that facility to close out the 2020 season. Still, Saturday and Sunday marked the end of an era, closing the book on a place where racing took place since 1958.
Jamie Weatherford, a long-time racer at the speedway, admitted he entered Saturday’s Late Model Stock race trying not to think about the emotions of the day. However, the years of memories were difficult to ignore.
“I was trying to put it on the backburner and not think about it,” Weatherford told Speed51. “It’s very sad. Everyone who comes here and races on a weekly basis, and even the guys who come in and run the big races, it grows on you. At some point in time, you’re going to get to race the best of the best.
“Being able to run here like we have over the past years and win some races, that’s special. A lot of good drivers have come here, and it’s beat them down. It’s something we’ll forever hold in our hearts that we were able to come and run good. It’s a tough day.”
One name synonymous with racing at Myrtle Beach over the years has been the surname of “Milliken.” The family tradition started with Jamie Milliken, and was passed on to his son Justin Milliken.
The younger Milliken enjoyed considerable success at the tricky track, including the 2018 Late Model Stock track championship. More importantly, however, Milliken says racing at Myrtle Beach made him who he was as a person.
“This place taught me how to be a man. I am saying goodbye to an old friend. I’ve been coming here a long time and had so many great memories.
“We bought a Late Model and put it in an open carport where rain would blow in the sides and we didn’t even know how to check the oil. We learned how to work on it. We just came down here and pecked away and pecked away. I don’t know how it happened, but we started having success.”
The incredible high of the 2018 track championship came on the heels of one of the most devastating moments of Milliken’s life, as he was injured in a motor vehicle accident which claimed the life of good friend and fellow racer Terry Evans in 2017 while leaving the speedway.
“I’ll never forget, Lee Pulliam, one of the greatest ever, couldn’t be beat, and our little jack-leg team beat him two in a row. A month later, I lost my best friend. We came back here in ’18 and won the state championship and track championship. I’ll take that with me forever.”
Milliken’s race on Saturday ended against the turn three wall as part of a multi-car incident. Nonetheless, Milliken crossed the finish line one last time on foot, waving to the crowd and completing his last race at Myrtle Beach on his terms.
“I knew when we ended up in the fence there was no way I was getting in an ambulance if my two feet would walk in front of each other. If Steve Zacharias was going to drag me into an ambulance, he was gonna have to. If it started raining, I didn’t care. I was going to cross the start/finish line, if I had to crawl, walk, or ride on Sam Yarbrough’s door. I was going to finish this last lap at Myrtle Beach.”
With the 2020 season concluding in August, Myrtle Beach will not contest the signature Myrtle Beach 400, a November tradition at the facility. Will Burns goes into the record books as the final winner of that Late Model Stock crown jewel.
Burns was another local standout, narrowly missing out on the 2020 track championship to Sam Yarbrough. He admitted after the race that the realization of the moment was just starting to set in, and he expected the emotions to only get stronger.
“I’m sure it will hit me again when we pull out of the gate. It almost brought me to tears back there. So many special memories here. From winning my first race to winning the 400, it’s a special place. I’m sure we’ll get plenty of photos before we leave.”
Despite the sadness and disappointment, Burns was able to take solace like many others that the Myrtle Beach racing family will be able to move to Florence Motor Speedway to continue their racing journey.
“Thank goodness Steve Zacharias and his family are moving on to another chapter in racing. We can at least go to Florence Motor Speedway and catch up with everybody and keep racing. Going to be miss the place, for sure.”
To watch a recap of the final Late Model Stock Car race at Myrtle Beach Speedway, click here.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo