Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An Abandoned Dragstrip Behind an Abandoned Shopping Mall


I included pictures of the Raleigh Springs Mall in a recent blog post where I remarked that the mall’s decline had been driven by suburban sprawl luring away most of its tenants and customers. There are a lot of people in the Memphis area who would insist that I am wrong and that the mall’s major problems are Memphis property taxes and changing demographics as the Raleigh population has shifted from majority white to majority black over the last two decades.

However, the Southland Mall in Whitehaven is in a predominately black neighborhood inside the city of Memphis and it still has plenty of tenants and shoppers. Meanwhile there is the Belz Factory Outlet Mall in Lakeland. That mall, built in the late ‘70s, is just two Interstate exists away from the Wolfchase Galleria Mall and it’s surrounding big-box retailers. The Wolfchase area was developed in the late ‘90s and it drew customers away from the older mall in Lakeland, just like it drew them away from the Raleigh Springs Mall.



According to census data, Lakeland is 91.56 percent white with a median household income of $58,897. It currently has no municipal property tax. And its mall is abandoned.





As a gearhead, it’s hard to have too much sympathy for the Lakeland mall’s fate. When it was being built during the late ‘70s, it was the new sprawl that killed off a piece of Memphis-area history -- the Lakeland International Raceway. If you know where to find it, you can still park on the southern edge of the mall’s parking lot and take a short walk through the woods to the overgrown ruins of the old dragstrip that was once “the traction capital of the South.”


National drag racing legends like “Jungle” Jim Liberman and Larry “The Hawaiian” Reyes once roared down the track. Parts of the cult-classic car movie Two-Lane Blacktop take place there. In the mid-‘90s the strip was long abandoned but still accessible to vehicles so my dad taught me to drive a stick shift on it in his ‘57 Chevy step-side pickup.

The Lakeland dragstip appears briefly at around the 0:35 mark in the movie's trailer.

The former dragstrip was slated to be completely cleared several years ago to make way for a large residential development and some of the work was even started before the housing market crash put the project on indefinite hold. But for now the weed-choked strip and crumbling walls are still there to remind people of its former glory.







1 comment:

  1. The track shots remind me of seeing Norbert (Bo) O'Brochta bouncing down the shutdown area after crashing his top fueler. Ouch. Pity about the dragstrip. If tracks made enough money for operators, they would not fail. Fact.
    Tom Loughlin Jr.

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