On The Road
ON THE ROAD: U.S. 60 Dragway
Of all the weekends I could have wound up visiting U.S. 60 Raceway in Hardinsburg, Kentucky, I must admit I accidentally showed up on the most perfect weekend of the entire year. It was late September and things were winding down at the vintage, half century-old drag strip that’s located just below the Indiana state line. And since the season-long points chase had just been completed and new champions crowned, there was nothing much left to do before winter set in except enjoy their annual Race of Champions and eat a delicious pig!
That’s right, you can imagine my excitement when track owner Judy Snead told me a giant hog had been slow cooking all night and all her racers were bringing a covered dish to complement the tasty main course. “Can you stay and eat with us?” she asked. I laughed out loud at such an inquiry! “Allow me to introduce myself,” I told her, as I could hear my legendary eating disorder beginning to rumble.
Judy is a very youthful 72-year-old great-grandmother, an Alabama native who along with her husband, J.D. Snead, bought the track nearly 30 years ago. After an extended illness J.D. passed away in 2013 and Judy has no desire to sell the track that they renovated three decades ago. Her husband’s name still appears on all the promotional fliers as well as the track website. “He’s still a part of this track and he always will be,” she told me.
Both J.D. and Judy grew up in Anniston, Alabama, and the story of how they met is quite fascinating. Each morning they would meet in the exact same curve in the road while they traveled to work. Their eyes would lock for a split second and they would exchange a friendly wave morning after morning, until one day they met face to face at a social gathering. They married shortly thereafter in 1968 and then moved north to Kentucky two years later. J.D. was a drag racer who also worked for the railroad for many years. In 1986 the opportunity came their way to purchase U.S. 60 Dragway, and thus began an exciting journey for them.
“We were pretty close and very spontaneous,” Judy giggled, as she recounted their life and adventures together. Their ownership of U.S. 60 was a labor of love and no doubt required a healthy combination of both. Together they endured adversities that ranged from devastating tornadoes to menacing squirrels that would break into the concession stand and store their nuts for the winter. “I’d find their hole and plug it up, but they’d always seem to find another way in,” she laughed.
Judy always seems to find the humor in every circumstance and her drag strip staff clearly enjoys her light-hearted nature. They also delight in playing the occasional practical joke on her. Take the most recent running of the Race of Champions, for example, when track announcer Gene Bennett (who also was in charge of cooking the hog for the day’s festivities) came to Judy just hours before the event and delivered some frightfully bad news. “With a completely straight face, Gene comes to me and tells me that they shot the hog last night and it took off running and they chased it for two miles before it finally got away!” Judy nearly fainted as her mind raced with possibilities on where she might get another hog for her racers on such short notice. Right about then, Gene couldn’t contain his laughter anymore and the gig was up, much to Judy’s relief.
I was also completely floored to learn that Judy’s mother was none other than the late Cleo Chandler, who was probably the most popular IHRA Stock Eliminator competitor I ever knew. I can distinctly remember being present at Darlington in 1992 when Cleo won the Winter Nationals, and she must have been in her 70s by then. She raced her 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle until she was 81 years of age, and as you may have guessed, Cleo raced the car for many years at U.S. 60 Raceway when she wasn’t touring the country. Volumes have been written about this dear lady, who captured the hearts of fans everywhere.
Judy and I talked for literally hours before it was finally time to break bread at the annual Race of Champions feast. She laughingly told me about the nicknames she routinely tags her racers with because of their quirky habits. Among my favorites was “Split’n Minton,” a racer who likes to start splitting the purse at 10 cars. Then there’s “Cool Down Henning,” a competitor who notoriously needs more time to cool his car before the next round. “We have names for everybody; it’s all in fun and everybody has a great time,” she grinned.
Among the most fascinating tales of all, though, was one about a racer who quietly lost first round every single weekend for 15 years straight before on one bizarre night he won the race! “I never saw him again after that night,” said Judy, who still often wonders whatever became of him. The stories she told me were better than anything you could possibly make up!
And so it goes, another season comes to a close at this small-town drag strip. Local racers like Glen Fey (pictured) will soon be dreaming of how they’re going to finish better in points than they did the previous season, and the squirrels, of course, will be dreaming of how they’re going to break into the concession stand!
Judy Snead just sits back and wishes them all luck. “I’ve got a pretty good life, I think,” she said with a big smile. And I couldn’t agree more.