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Published on 08 Oct 2018 / In Cars and Vehicles

Thanks to Vishitra R Garig, Clay County Archivist http://archives.clayclerk.com for the use of these images and the following information.

Thunderbolt Raceway: Clay County’s First Drag Strip

Readers may be familiar with the new and exciting drag strip at Reynolds Industrial Park, Green Cove Dragway, but fewer know about Thunderbolt Raceway.

Back in WWII, an area of land just off CR 200 and where the big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot and the library are located was Fleming Island Naval Outlying Field or NOLF. It was surrounded by heavy pine forests and had a 4,000 foot runway.

Navy pilots would do “touch and go landings” and practice dropping bombs at the nearby Mill Cove bomb range, in Doctors Inlet, just off Creighton Road.

One of those pilot instructors was Ed Mc Mahon of the Johnny Carson Show. One of those student pilots was the older brother of President John F. Kennedy, Joseph Kennedy. He was later killed in WWII.

After the war, the field was abandoned. It wasn’t long before the racing aficionados discovered this little gem in the pine forest. Three men, Burch Stump, (a former North Carolina racer), Ben Zellner, a owner of the local Lincoln Mercury dealership, and Ed Taylor who taught auto shop at Clay High were the original organizers of the raceway.

In time the track was NHRA certified The field became a mecca for the top racers of the day: Don Prudhomme, Connie Kalitta, Chris Karamesines, Stan Mizell (NHRA Hall of Famer) and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits all competed at the track.

Locals like Eugene Lankford and current County Commissioner Ronnie Robinson were there too.

Thunderbolt Elementary in Fleming Island is named after the raceway.

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