The Unique History of Yello Belly Drag Strip

Yello Belly Drag Strip originated in the early 1950’s when a number of adventurous young automobile enthusiasts began racing each other in the sandy river bottom of the Trinity River near Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. The property owner, an eccentric millionaire, O.L.Nelms, was a frequent spectator and the racers prevailed upon him to build a drag strip so they could enjoy their hobby without the intervention of the local police who usually closed down their racing. Nelms did build an asphalt drag strip run by volunteers who enjoyed the activities. It was dubbed “Yello Belly Drag Strip”, a reference to Nelms’ opinion of their lack of bravery. The name stuck! Later, a fence was added and each racer and spectator was charged 50 cents admission. The gate opened at noon every Sunday and closed at dark, using the street racing method of flagged start and finish.

During the 1960’s, racial tension at that period in history became a concern. This prompted Nelms to build steel structures along each side of the track with a metal roof and dock-high foundations, which could easily become warehouses if the track were forced to close. That never happened and Yello Belly Drag Strip exists as the oldest continuously operating drag strip in Texas and the only known drag strip with covered spectator areas where one can park a car at covered trackside and watch the races.

In 1968 a young entrepreneur, Charlcie Townson, bought the property and began making improvements. She constructed a control tower with a public address system and start-to-finish lights, a lighted ticket booth, restrooms, a concession stand and parking lot lighting. Closing at dark, not much lighting was needed. Admission was increased to only $l.00 per person, but many still congregated on the highway where they could partially view the races for free. Ms. Townson personally operated the track until shortly before her death in 1986, at which time four of her sisters inherited the property and have continued to update with other amenities. The track has been re-paved a number of times and a protective concrete barrier added at each side. New aluminum bleachers have been installed, along with a pro-tree lighting and timing system which is constantly being upgraded and utilizes a computer, timing the races to one-thousandth of a second and providing a printed time sheet to each driver. Racing fuel is available on the premises. Due to safety concerns, law enforcement required the placement of an 18-foot high wall shielding Highway 180 which runs in front of the track. In 2004 complete metal siding replaced the aging brick façade of the building which houses the concession, the racing fuel, and equipment storage.

Yello Belly Drag Strip has operated as a family-run business year round continuously since 1955. Many loyal fans boast of a three and four generation history as fans or racers. No business sign existed until the present 20-foot tall electric sign was installed in 2004, identifying the business that has thrived at the same location for 60 years – 4702 East Main Street, Grand Prairie, Texas.