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1969 racing tragedy saves hundreds
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On March 2, 1969, after an accident that killed 12 and injured more than 40 at the Yellow River Dragstrip in Covington, Ga., the car involved in the crash, known as the Dixie Twister, disappeared. Thirty-four years later, Randall Davis, former crew member of driver Huston Platt, found the car in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The reason I knew it was the car is because the owner told me the manufacturers number was 0032, said Davis. When you eat, sleep and wipe down that chassis as many times as I have, you remember the number.

It took Davis eight years of searching, travel, restoration and more than $80,000 in expenses before the car was ready to be taken on the road again.

Anybody that knew somebody would start asking around. When we went to look at a car, they would just send us in another direction, said Davis. He tracked the car until he lost sight of it in Halifax,VA. A friend of a friend called me and said they think they found the car, Davis said. I had been told that so many times it was just disheartening because we wanted it so bad. Davis said Platt was a father figure to him, and after seeing reproductions of the car, he insisted on finding the original and actually running it again.

Platt was racing his Dixie Twister down the Yellow River Dragstrip. Frank Oglesby was the contender, and it was the first car where Platt was both owner and driver. The car was a 1969 Camaro, flip-top, funny car one of only a handful during that era. When Platt was preparing to slow down by releasing his chutes, a spectator approached the sandy, narrow track. As Platt deployed his chutes, the spectator leaned over to retrieve a beer can. The chute swept-up the spectator, killing him instantly. The weight of the victim in the chute caused the flip-top body to sling-shot into the spectator area. The cars chassis remained perpendicular on the dragstrip. That was the last race ever run on Covingtons Yellow River Dragstrip. It was also the last time Platt ever raced down a dragstrip.

Investigators said the poor and unsafe track conditions were to blame for the accident. Shortly afterward, motorsports safety officials and directors begin revising the regulations and codes. As a result of the tragedy, motorsports and its spectators are safer. Officials began implementing new regulations that increased the distance between spectators and the track. Spectators were no longer allowed to be in the pits during hot times. Guard rails and concrete soon replaced chicken wire and wooden fence posts. Track widths and lengths were increased to allow for driver correction and more slow-down time. The public announcement boxes were relocated from the hot zone to a safer, less noisy and congested area. And most importantly, all tracks were required to maintain liability insurance.

This tragedy has saved hundreds of lives over the past forty-three years, said Gordon Pirkle, Chairman of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame (GRHOF) has seen its share of hero cars. And this newest addition to the list is currently on exhibit until Feb. 29. It has been fully restored to comply with the current NHRA standards. Many of its safety features were improved, due to new safety regulations.

We had the Dixie Twister name painted down the side, but Hustons name wasnt above it, Davis said. We had to take it to him to get his permission to put his name back on it, he added. After Platts reunion with the car, he made a step back into the racing world and accompanied the car at various events. Seeing that look on Hustons face when he made public appearances with the car was worth every bit of it, Davis stated. Platt spent the last years of his life enjoying his renowned Twister and his racing family and friends. The 79-year-old legendary drag racer passed away November 30, 2011.

We will begin running the car in March, Davis said. But my future plans include cloning it and retiring the original, he added. Only this time, Davis has no intention of taking his eyes off the car that has always been a part of his life and has inadvertently helped save the lives of so many other motorsport enthusiasts.

The Georgia Racing of Fame is located at 415 Hwy. 53 East, Dawsonville, inside the City Hall Municipal Complex. For more information, www.georgiaracinghof.com or call 706-216-RACE (7223).

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