Visionaries are dreamers with money and that’s just what brothers Paul and Parrot Hardy of Mullins, S.C., were when they intended to make Myrtle Beach the center of the harness racing world back in 1938.
The Hardy boys formed the Myrtle Beach Racing Association and leased several acres of land from the city just one block from the ocean. They constructed a $40,000 racing plant they named Washington Park and designed it to be cutting-edge and unique for its time.
|A postcard from Myrtle Beach (top) along with the original photo on which it is based (bottom).|
The grandstand was constructed completely of steel and held 5,200 people while it provided a clear view of the races from every seat. It was also noted as being the first track to introduce the horses and drivers by name in the post parade. But probably its best attribute was having the Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop.
Horsemen from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland were involved in its initial meet. Besides the excellent half-mile clay racing surface and 150 available stalls, trainers were also able to jog their horses on the beach each morning and most of them did.
You must remember that this was long before Myrtle Beach was a resort town and the track was a boon for the area’s economy. It was actually one of the first attractions to the seaside town. Racing fans filled up the guest houses (there were no motels of hotels there at the time) and the bi-weekly race cards were successful for years. However what had been an original issue for opening the track eventually became the catalyst for its ultimate demise.
South Carolina, Myrtle Beach in particular, had no gambling laws in 1938 when the track was built. So in order to allow betting on the horses which would help make the track grow more popular, the town council passed an ordinance that allowed “the sale of receipts," that really meant betting tickets. They circumvented the void and kind of back-doored their own gaming law into effect. It was submitted to a local circuit judge and he agreed with it. So the track was on solid ground for nine years.
There were some prominent residents in Myrtle Beach who were opposed to betting and horse racing in general and through their efforts, gambling was officially outlawed there in 1947. The State Supreme Court ruled against gambling that at the time was generally referred to as “equal mutual guessing." Oddly enough, that occurred when most other states were beginning to allow pari-mutuel wagering and started opening tracks all over the Northeast in the post-war era.
|The outline of the racetrack can be still be seen on satellite maps of the area.|
The law change led to the track's closure and the tourists left Myrtle Beach.
As for Washington Park, a man named Edward Canne leased it in 1951 and re-opened it as Myrtle Beach Raceway. He intended on making it a winter training haven for Standardbreds, but without legalized gambling it was unable to generate enough revenue to stay afloat. It closed as a horse track once again in 1952 and remained dormant for four years.
In 1956 NASCAR took it over and called it Coastal Speedway. They raced NASCAR Cup short-track there for two years until the new Rambi Race Track (later to be named Myrtle Beach Speedway) was opened west of the city in 1958.
After that stint of activity, the grandstand was dismantled and sold to the new Rambi Race Track for additional seating and the rest of the property would remain vacant for years.
Despite all the building and growth Myrtle Beach has seen over the decades since the track closed, as is customary with many “ghost tracks," there are still remnants of the original clay track visible (and walkable) more than 60 years later behind the Wells Fargo Bank on 2110 Oak Street near the corner of 21st Avenue.
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