yellow river accident drag racing dixie twister

I had the opportunity to spend time with Huston Platt, his son Rocky, as well as Randall Davis and Randall’s wife Donna around seven months before Mr. Platt’s passing.  I found Huston Platt to be a gentleman and quiet spoken.  Surprisingly, the Yellow River incident, where the Dixie Twister was involved in a tragic accident, was a subject raised by Huston Platt himself.

We have often discussed how to address the subject of Yellow River in a manner that is sensitive to the victims of the accident, as well as the Platt family themselves.  Following is my essay on the subject, and I intend it to be the primary resource available on this website regarding the accident.

Yellow River
The facts are well-established.  At approximately 2:20 p.m., on March 2, 1969, Huston Platt left the starting line in the Dixie Twister at Yellow River Dragstrip, in Covington, Georgia in a match race against Frank Ogelsby. What occurred next would alter many lives tragically. As Platt came down the track a spectator hopped over the fence to retrieve a beer (that had unfortunately landed right side up) and was instantly killed when Platt’s parachute opened into him.  The car lost control into the crowd, and ultimately twelve people perished in the accident.  Yellow River never re-opened as the owner of the track acknowledged after the accident that an “engine would never turn at Yellow River (again)”. Huston Platt’s career was effectively over. Most importantly, those twelve people died on a spring day and their families lives were changed forever.

The aftermath has persisted for over forty years.  We have the benefit of space and time to try to answer the questions surrounding “who” and “what”, and most difficult, “how come?”.  We who are not personally touched by the tragedy carry on, maybe shaking our heads slowly, saying “What a shame” under our breaths or to our neighbors, but for those involved, the tragedy has its own life, every day.  Having lost my mother to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), I understand this.

It is said that “time is a gentleman”, but sometimes I am not so sure.  For the driver, Huston Platt, and his family, the pain is fresh after forty years.  Nobody can really understand what it was to be Huston Platt after the accident.  We must acknowledge it as just that…an accident.  The media hounded Huston Platt for years, callously so. Some might say Yellow River was an accident waiting to happen, as cars became more powerful and safety regulations lagged behind.

Known as a consummate professional, Platt was a perfectionist and a careful driver. He dispatched Richard Petty in two of three match races. Rick Lynch, then director of AHRA’s professional racing, described Huston Platt as a “seasoned drag race driver” who has “competed at speeds in excess of 190 miles per hour at almost every major race track in the United States”. It is cruelly unfair to fault a driver piloting a top fuel funny car at g-forces comparable to a space shuttle launch for not being able to adjust at the end of run to a spectator appearing unexpectedly on the track.

The purpose here is not to assign blame or rehash events, as plenty of others have done that for almost a half century.  The purpose here is a journey towards compassion…and to communicate this:

Huston Platt carried the weight of loss for the rest of his life after that day in the Spring of 1969…as did his family. His wife Annalyn remembered that “Every year, we know the time is coming. I don’t say anything about it, but I know it is coming. We never discuss it, but it stays with us constantly.”

These are my thoughts on the subject, and I offer such.  My heart goes out to everyone who suffered on that terrible day and since, including Mr. Huston Platt and his family. Tragedy finds us because we live.

Barrie Collins
Athens, Georgia
September, 2012

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