Blythewood drag racers honor fallen racing friend

Blythewood’s Steve Turner has been drag racing since he started driving. His first car was a souped-up ‘74 Nova. His younger brother Cliff had a ‘72 red Plymouth Duster hot rod. His brother Mike drove a 60-something Nova

When the brothers weren’t working on their cars, they were cruising them around hot spot Dutch Square Mall or hot rodding the back roads of Blythewood.

Today, at 57, Steve is still drag racing, but on tracks, not back roads. He is currently revving up for what has come to be the drag race of the year for Turner and his Blythewood area racing buddies – the 7th Annual Sonny Greer Memorial Drag Race.

Held at the Darlington Dragway, the race honors Greer, a founding member of the Palmetto Drag Racer’s Association in Elgin, before his untimely death from heart disease in May of 2005.

This year’s race is marked with a new addition – a pre-Sonny Greer Drag Race on Friday night, June 8, before the big Saturday memorial race. Plus, this year’s Saturday race will feature the Quick 8 Outlaws Pro-Mods which are ultra-modern high powered drag race cars. These cars sport both old and new body styles with super fast 2500 horsepower engines.

“The Association that Sonny helped start was sort of the local club for drag racers in the Elgin, Blythewood, Camden area,” Turner explained, reminiscing about how the now well-organized club began as a monthly family cookout at Greer’s shop in Elgin back in 2003.

“We all loved drag racing – we raced, talked about racing and tried to come up with ways to promote our common interest and safety in our sport,” Turner said. “One of our main goals was to encourage conduct among our members that would promote a positive image for drag racing. Sonny’s cookouts made all that possible for us. He was a great friend and racing buddy. He did a lot for our local drag racers.”

The Association is now 100 members strong and holds the annual memorial race to honor their old friend and to provide a venue for their common dream of one day making it to the big time, to the nationals.

For most local drag racers, that’s an illusive dream. But Turner said racing and winning is a thrill on any level.

The races, called bracket racing, are held on eighth-of-a-mile straightaway courses where the cars reach speeds of over a hundred miles per hour in 6.5 seconds.

The Turner brothers are some of the best bracket racers in the area. Today, Turner is retired from his job as a fire fighter and runs 20-25 races a year.

For the Turner brothers, racing is not a hobby, but a life-long passion instilled in them at an early age by their late father, Raymond, a car enthusiast who, Steve said, “taught us everything we know about cars.”

“Dad took me and my three brothers over to the old Blaney drag strip in Elgin every Saturday,” Steve recalled fondly. “We always hung out in the pit with Don Gartlits and Jungle Jim Leiberman – they were the big time racers then. We had good times there. It cost us about $10 for the whole day in the pit. It’s what our family did every weekend. It was our life, and I loved it.

The Turner boys couldn’t wait for Saturdays, and they couldn’t wait to get their own race cars.

But racing is expensive without sponsors. Turner helped finance his racing habit with money from a second job as a house painter. Plus, like most of his racing buddies, Turner saved money by doing almost all his own engine work. It was something he learned from his dad.

“Our dad taught us everything about racing,” Turner said, “even to do all the work ourselves so we could afford entry fees and gas.”

Turner is now playing that same role for his only child, Tamara Day, 26, who began racing in earnest two years ago. Her husband, Brian, has been racing for about five years.

Tamara races a red ‘69 Camaro that was her dad’s for 34 years.

“When I had it,” Turner said with a smile, “it was orange. Now it’s Tamara’s car.”

Tamara, an emergency room nurse at Lexington Medical Center, will compete in the Friday night pre-race at Darlington.

Turner is proud that his daughter has followed in his racing footsteps, but he isn’t at all surprised.

“Ever since she was a toddler,” Turner said, “she’d be out in my shop with me. When she was about three, I started taking her with me to races. As she got older I’d have her turn the motor over while I adjusted each valve on an engine. She loved to go with me to national events. She loved racing, just like I did”

Tamara has run six races this year.

Turner also drives a ‘69 Camaro – yellow with black racing stripes –but he said it’s much faster than the ‘69 Camaro Tamara drives.

He purchased the yellow Camaro from Sonny Greer three weeks before his death. The car sports a professionally built racing chassis and big block chevy engine with over 800 horsepower.

“I added finishing touches and my own engine a few weeks before the first Sonny Greer Memorial Race,” Turner said.

Turner will be racing in the main racing event on Saturday at Darlington, competing for purses of up to $3,000. More than 200 drivers are expected to show up – including Blythewood’s Bobby Royson, Richard Abell, John Owens, Mike and Travis Peake, Turner’s brothers Mike and Cliff and others.

“It’s going to be a good time,” Turner said. “Besides the drivers from Blythewood, we expect to have a lot of Blythewood area fans and spectators as well.