Starting in the 1920’s, lying in the shadow of the legendary “Raven Rock,” and bearing the same name came – “Raven Rock Airport” – that was to kindle the aviation history of Scioto County. The county seemed to be lying in wait for the aviation appetite to readily emerge. Bringing Scioto County to a new height and setting loose the emergence of flight. Raven rock airport gave those dreamers the ability to fly into the clouds and feel free as a bird.
The airport in the beginning was a long grassy runway which allowed trips for passengers and mail to the Portsmouth region. Raven Rock Airport served many single and some twin engine aircraft which continued until June of 1957. This local airstrip gave many parents and children the taste of the excitement of flying. Allowing them the opportunity for a short flight over the rolling hills of Scioto County – for as little as a dollar a trip through the air. The city of Portsmouth would have a glimpse into the technology of the future. Raven Rock airport remained a main stay for Portsmouth and the county, accommodating many air extravaganzas; local pilots owning their own planes would use the airport as a tie-down.
The location of the airport was what led to the downfall of keeping it an airport. Its location was subject to periodic flooding and produced issues for the planes and from keeping regular schedules for any types of flights that would arrive and depart. The site also had a trend to hold heavy fog, generating further obstacles. Adding to the complaints coming from most of the pilots were claims that the wind that gusted through the hills created unstable wind conditions and would, force them too close to the rock that gave the airport its name. The issues seemed to grow and this led for the county to decide the fate of the airport that had sparked the area aviation in the first place. In the late1950’s it would be shut down and later shift its focus from the air to more of a grounded activity by being used as a drag strip for local speed enthusiasts to come and show off their hot-rod cars and race each other; becoming known as the “Raven Rock Drag Strip,” instead of the airport.
The internet site history of “Drag Racing in Ohio” states that, “the county built a new airport at Minford, north of the city of Portsmouth, and Raven Rock Airport – became available for drag racing. The first drag race held at the airport was on June 16, 1957. Only 150 feet at the starting line of the quarter mile runway strip was black-topped. The remainder of the track was gravel-coated with heavy oil. It proved to be an unsatisfactory surface for the 39 cars that entered that first race. A fair-sized crowd watched Bob Warren of Columbus take top eliminator in his 1934 B gas coupe. The race was conducted by the Kustom Kouriers Club of Portsmouth.
Fast cars had caused damage to the un-blacktopped slag base, so something had to be done. Before the next race the following Sunday, Charles Bracken and Taylor Lawson invested $26,000 in the airport dragstrip, paving the remainder of the surface with asphaltic concrete. It was 22 feet wide and 2,500 feet long. They also purchased better timing equipment because their timer could only clock speeds up to 120 MPH and several cars exceeded that on the first event. Word got out about the new paving job and 109 vehicles showed up for the race on June 30, a big jump over the previous week.
Bob Warren won top eliminator for the third straight week. Gordon Collett, who would later become a nationally known top gas dragster driver, won frequently at Raven Rock during the fall of 1957. On October 20, 1957, he garnered his sixth straight victory as top eliminator. He kept increasing the track record almost each week, making a run of 116.83 MPH on October 20. The strip was widened and resurfaced in 1962. On the 1963 Labor Day weekend, Raven Rock staged what was called the “Poor Man’s Nationals.” In 1974, the track changed its name to Portsmouth Dragway.”
In the beginning men, women and children would watch as airplanes took off and landed in awe at Raven Rock Airport. In later years, young men and women would flock out to Raven Rock and watch and cheer on their favorite hot-rodder to victory. As all things do, the track was forgotten – “dragging” became a thing of the past. The strip was eventually replaced by a park and recreational area. The end of an era of nostalgia was ever gone. Maybe if you go out that way on some moonlit night about midnight. You listen real close and peer toward where the dragstrip and runway was. You just might hear the roar of engines and visions of ghostly shadows waiting for a plane ride or the drag race to begin. You never know!
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org