1990-1992: Storms Blow Through Darlington County
By Terrance Niedziela Jr.
Editor’s Note: We are happy to support Darlington Raceway’s Throwback theme. In this piece Terrance Niedziela Jr., who was working at the Darlington County Historical Commission at the time it was written, looks back at the early 90’s.
1990-92 was an era filled with big hair and painful fashion choices; this writer has the pictures to prove it! But embarrassing pictures aside, the early 90s were filled with a series of storms that affected Darlington County.
September 21, 1989 brought Hurricane Hugo and its 135mph maximum winds to level utility lines, twist and pull up trees, and shred buildings. It caused $6 million in damage. The sound of chainsaws was as common as buzzing mosquitos. Wood from fallen trees was piled up and given away as free firewood. Creeks were clogged with debris, causing flooding as waves of rain followed on Hugo’s heels. In October 1990, the roof of the National Motorsports Press Association Stock Car Hall of Fame Joe Weatherly Museum buckled under torrential rains. None of the stock cars were seriously damaged. FEMA stepped in to help after Hugo, but in 1992 contacted the city of Darlington and informed them they had been overpaid. Darlington was required to pay back $8,736 given for damages and $174.72 in administrative costs. The city was willing to pay, hoping the money would be used to help those hit by other hurricanes.
Another type of storm hit in 1990 and this one consisted of movie stars and racing. Paramount Pictures chose to film “Days of Thunder” at Darlington International Raceway. Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, and Nicole Kidman graced Darlington with their presence as a call went out for extras for the movie. Around 3,000 people flooded to apply, including people from North Carolina and Virginia. Many Darlington County residents were chosen. Racing fever swept through the county. Tom Cruise increased his fame in Darlington by getting a speeding ticket for driving 66mph in a 35mph zone on Cashua Street. He was fined $125 and photocopies of the ticket were scattered throughout the county. Once again Darlington County was in the national limelight.
1990-91 saw Operation Desert Storm that morphed into the Persian Gulf War. Darlington County residents, including teachers and Darlington Mayor Ronnie Ward, were shipped to Kuwait. Mayor Ward continued to remain mayor while overseas and was able to maintain his post in the 1991 election. Patriotism skyrocketed as members of Darlington County communities hung yellow ribbons and held prayer meetings to support troops. I was entering middle school at this time and I remember wondering when it would all be over.
The last storm I will talk about is the 1992 political storm. From local to national, politics was a major focus and still is today. National politics played themselves out in the Southern 500. Vice President Dan Quale walked in the rain during the Southern 500 Parade on Labor Day and was met with cheering. Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton held the position of Grand Marshal for the Southern 500 Race and was met with loud boos. Despite the less than pleasant welcome, Bill Clinton carried Darlington County in the election, though not South Carolina.
Here is bit of fun trivia for you: In 1990-92, minimum wage for South Carolina was $3.80/hr. Ribeye and New York Strip steaks were $4.99/lb. A 5lb bag of potatoes was 99¢ and sweet potatoes was 39¢/lb. Currently, the minimum wage for South Carolina is $7.25 and depending on where you go, a Ribeye steak is $6.63/lb. Whether back then or today, it looks like there is still just a little bit left over after grocery shopping!