News & Car Culture

Ohio’s Dragway 42 to Reopen This Summer After $10M+ Overhaul

Dragway 42 in West Salem, OH is coming together after the new owner invested more than $10 million to overhaul the nearly 60-year-old facility. The track will host a national IHRA event September 11-12. Photo by Sean Cutright/OnAllCylinders

Dragway 42 in West Salem, OH is coming together after the new owner invested more than $10 million to overhaul the nearly 60-year-old facility. The track will host a national IHRA event September 11-12. Photo by Sean Cutright/OnAllCylinders

WEST SALEM, OH. – This isn’t your father’s Dragway 42.

Elyria, OH businessman and drag racer Ron Matcham bought the historic drag strip and a bunch of surrounding land in late 2013 with designs on creating a brand-new, world-class drag racing and entertainment complex in this rural town about 30 miles (as the crow flies) southeast of Norwalk, OH.

Matcham set out to spend about $1 million refurbishing the track. So far, he has spent $10 million on a complete metamorphosis.

You’re welcome, race fans.

(Story continues below slideshow)

Scroll through the slideshow to see construction progress photos at Dragway 42.

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This is another example of Dragway 42's beefed-up infrastructure. One of these large bundles of electrical conduit will power the Accutime Timing System starting tree, and the second is there simply as backup.

Tucking the track into this little valley required heavy investment in erosion-prevention measures.

Plastic tubing surrounding the steel rebar supports buried in the track wall footer will allow greater flexibility for concrete expansion and contraction, Dragway 42 officials said.

The track walls are twice the thickness required by IHRA. It's about keeping cars on the track and protecting both racers and spectators.

Bleachers shipped in from Daytona International Speedway will sit on the mound in the background beyond this newly poured concrete wall. Fans will sit hillside as well to watch racing and future concerts.

It may not be sexy, but the heavy investment in drainage is what is going to make Dragway 42's racetrack one of the world's finest, the owner says.

The primary focus of land development activity thus far has been about keeping water off the racetrack. Multiple retention ponds will be on site.

Dragway 42 spent $100,000 to send the lengthened track across this environmentally protected waterway.

6,000 bleacher seats taken from the backstretch of Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL. 3,000 seats will sit atop each mound on either side of the racetrack.

The roar and sight of two monster horsepower cars screaming down this track is going to be something.

Heavy rain throughout northern Ohio has slowed track construction, but Dragway 42 officials say the track will open this summer.

If you stop and listen, you can almost hear the cars roar down the track and smell the smoking tires while you wipe the invisible black rubber flecks off your face. Or maybe it's just us.

Owner Matcham and General Manager Joe Gambino are hopeful they can open the facility by the end of July. The 265-acre complex will feature IHRA-sanctioned drag racing, competitive tractor pulling, concerts, and whatever else the creative and passionate new owner thinks of next.

The track will be visually stunning. The starting line is nestled into the ground between two large mounds where spectators will sit hillside to take in the action. Just behind the starting line and staging lanes feeding the track from both directions will be a state-of-the-art tower with suites and a media center.

Atop each mound along either side of the track will sit sections of 3,000-seat bleachers which Dragway 42 officials sourced from Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL. Dragway 42 will have a bleacher-seating capacity of 6,000, and a total attendance capacity of 22,000.

In the interest of driver safety (because of limited emergency run-off), as well as creating amphitheater-style seating at the starting line for both racing and music acts, Dragway 42 reversed the track direction. Racers familiar with Dragway 42 will have to adjust to driving the opposite direction.

Most drag strips were built in the 1950s and ‘60s, Gambino said—an era when cars were racing at much lower speeds than they are today.

“We’re bracket racers. The average dragster now runs 175 miles per hour in just over seven seconds,” Gambino said.

Both Matcham and Gambino are racers, and though they’re interested in creating new business and entertainment opportunities at Dragway 42, their primary focus has been firmly directed toward the racetrack, specifically. The track will be 4,000 feet with a 200-foot sand trap at the end. The first 800 feet will be concrete. The rest of the track will be asphalt. Some asphalt tracks have a problem with groundwater seeping up to the surface, but because of thoughtful, innovative design and engineering, as well as a heavy investment in drainage infrastructure, Dragway 42 officials say their racing surface will be as good as it gets in motorsports.

“Traditional drag strips have a problem with water seeping,” Gambino said. “We went through great pains—and money—to avoid that.”

The track alone features 410 individual drains and five rows of six-inch drain tiles along 4,000 feet of race track.

“The engineer designed this place’s drainage infrastructure to be able to hold a 100-house development,” Gambino said.

That was the theme throughout the under-construction facility. Nothing was built to spec. Everything is double what it needs to be. They dug multiple retention ponds, and buried twice as much heavy-gauge wiring to the Accutime Timing System LED starting tree and scoreboards as required. 210 lights will illuminate the racetrack at night.

The track walls are taller (42 inches) and thicker. Innovative plastic tubing surrounding the rebar in the track wall’s footer will allow for greater concrete expansion and contraction.

The track, once poured, will feature a light broom finish designed to best hold the VHT traction compound that gives the race track its tacky feel. Today’s tracks, when built the right way, will last about 15 years, Gambino said.

“As racers, we’re at the mercy of the dragstrip,” he said. “That’s why we’re spending the money for optimum traction.”

IHRA will use massive tire-dragging machines to lay down rubber on the track surface, he said.

Dragway 42 chose to partner with IHRA as its sanctioning body rather than NHRA in an effort to lessen direct competition with Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in nearby Norwalk.

“They’re the best at what they do,” Gambino said.

Dragway 42 inked a deal with Logan, OH-based Bazell Oil Co. Inc. on June 18 to provide on-site Sunoco-brand race fuel.

Weather-permitting, Dragway 42 officials plan to open in July, but pledge to be ready for its first scheduled national event September 11-12, when IHRA’s Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series returns to Ohio for the first time since 2006.

Gambino surveyed his surroundings standing near the starting line and smiled.

“I know it’s aggressive,” he said. “But [Matcham] is that kind of guy.”

Photos by Sean Cutright, and video by Al DiVencenzo.

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68 Comments

  1. Arlan rose (Sam ) says:

    Good to see it back in action Spent a many weekends there in the late 60’s and early 70’s

  2. I’m glad to see it come back,I have allot of memories they.I use to drag down that with my ex-brother-in law.

  3. greg Rebman says:

    MY daughter ran juniors there met so many nice people can’t wait to run there again

  4. First, the plastic around the reinforcing steel is intended to keep moisture away from the steel which would cause the steel to rust and eventually leave a void in the concrete. But ir appears the ends of this reinforcing steel are exposed to the weather. Faster corrosion of the steel.
    Second..Concrete doesn’t actually expand and contract. You add ‘air’ to concrete that is exposed to temperature changes, and other weather so that moisture can collect in these microscopic holes, and THAT can expand and contract as it freezes and thaws.
    Third…I see no ‘weep holes’ in this concrete to allow water that will collect behind this retaining wall escape and relieve the static pressure of the water behind it. If there are no under drains at the base of that wall, water will gather against it and apply pressure against the wall, that water will most likely freeze during the winter, causing the ground behind the wall to swell and put added pressure against the wall. Causing the concrete to crack.
    Fourth, thicker concrete is good, but if there is insufficient reinforcing in the concrete, or the concrete strength is too low, this lessens the effectiveness of the barrier.
    Fifth,… Yes, Drainage is the KEY to keeping the track and everything around it in the best possible condition. So maybe they did install under drains along that retaining wall.

    How do I know? NETTCP certified in soils, and ACI certified for concrete inspections. It’s what I do.

    • I will be very glad to know that you will not be participating at this track….by your your keen observations of this, the place will implode because they did not seek out your expertise.

    • OK Mr. big shot nettcp & concrete tester…any 1st year engineering student knows concrete is flexible….& it does contract & expand what are those expansion joints at the end of a bridge deck

    • Another nasayer or hater. Why not let the man spend his millions the way he feels fit and let him trust his construction people to get this job done right.

  5. Quote…”The track alone features 410 individual drains and five rows of six-inch drain tiles along 4,000 feet of race track.
    “The engineer designed this place’s drainage infrastructure to be able to hold a 100-house development,” Gambino said.
    That was the theme throughout the under-construction facility. Nothing was built to spec. Everything is double what it needs to be.”

    Umm, Nothing was built to spec? Or not to typical specs? If it was designed this way, then, that IS the spec. While drainage is seriously important, just as important is the condition and stability of the soils and base below the track and everything else. If that wasn’t solid to start with, it will eventually cause damage to everything above it.

    • anonymous says:

      We got it handled bubs. We know what we’re doing also

    • Larry Rippin jr says:

      I Hate people that think they know everything do you really think that the people that engineered this facility didn’t know what they were doing ,people with your opinions are the problem with this country today everybody can do it better or knows someone that can when they really dontt know there ass from first base obviously you have not been following how this project in its entirety!

    • hey ,,heres a thought dont race there ,,and all ur issues will drain away

  6. shirley parker says:

    I am glad to see someone took an interest in this track….i raced there a few times a few years back and enjoyed it……….good luck all. i still get the flyers for the track…..

  7. Not good for the poor people that live around there and will have to deal with all the noise, traffic and whatever else ensues. So much for living out in the country!

    • Dragway 42 has existed there for how many years? Are you one of those people that move next to an airport and then complain about the planes?

      • Jeremey C says:

        You should hear the whiners we get near military air bases. When I was stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola Fl, we had the same guy calling every week when the Blue Angels were practicing. That base has been there longer than most people have been alive. Move if you don’t like it…lol

        On the flip side, I can’t wait til the next time I bring my car home. Granted its a street car, but I raced it and many other cars on the old surface. I’d love to run on the new surface soon.

      • Larry Stanley says:

        I will buy any buddies house that wants to get away from the noise . I can not wait till you reopen. I raced there at the age of fifteen and still racing at the age of 68. If you need Top Fuel and Funny Bike for exhibitions for opening I can be there. Larry ( Grey Ghost ) Stanley.

    • The people that live in that area probably moved there for the track! sheesh! they’ve been there 60years

    • Let me know if anyone in that area wants to sell their home, I’d love to live near the track.

    • Tamisha Matus says:

      I grew up at the end of that racetrack. The farm in some of the pictures. It was the best time ever! You obviously don’t live there because I know all the neighbors so go complain somewhere else.

  8. wah wah waahh. If the worst thing you have to deal with is racing noises your life is pretty good.

  9. Chris kaiser says:

    Can’t wait to race there again live right down the road and loved racing there

  10. Sweet!!!! Used to be my Favorite place to go!! Can’t wait to hear the Beautiful Sound’s of everything that has to do with the Strip!!

  11. Jim Janicki says:

    This is really good news. I raced there many times in the sixties and won my share.

  12. Gary Geissman says:

    Love that place. So glad they have upgraded, and hope they have weekly series running there also! I moved to NC but would love to make the trip to race there again anytime!!

  13. Is the going to be at least one test and tune event this year

  14. That’s cool !
    Raced my ‘Cuda there at a Mopar show .
    Days before there were trees growing between cracks in the pavement !

  15. I thought the storm water ponds were to protect the downstream neighbors from faster water runoff from the 80-100 acres of compacted soil, pavement, and roofs, not to keep the race track dry.

  16. Russ Watts says:

    Can not wait to get back on the track..Raced there a few times just before it closed..Getting car ready to race again..have a 2013 camaro i want to see how fast it is

  17. bob—I can’t wait, but I will!

  18. thank you thank you a thousand times thank you. My new home away from home.

  19. Joe missed not racing last year looking forward to getting out there can’t wait to see it completed two great tracks in one area this is fantastic

  20. Love this place, live very close right off of 42. Big congrats to giving this track what it needed… A massive overhall.

  21. Jeff Estes says:

    I used to live a couple miles from this track out on Pawnee Rd, and didn’t mind it at all I enjoyed hearing the engines on Friday, Sat nights. Used to go out there at least a couple times a month. Good to see its coming back!

  22. Debbie Kimmell says:

    if the cars are going the opposite direction from previously, they will be heading towards Ste. Rte 42. Hope there are any brake issues to put them out into the highway!

  23. We are soooo excited about the new race track. We live about 5 miles up the road and my husband has lived here his whole life. I remember sitting on my front porch when I first moved here in the summer and in the evenings hearing the roar of the cars. I loved it. We have watched the transformation every day as we drive by on Jeffery road. We welcome anything that will bring business into our small town, the excitement of maybe some new places to eat and meeting people from all over the place. Yup, we are excited!

  24. Jenny hor says:

    So glad it’s coming back!! We race “Maxine ” our car everywhere but this track holds lots of special times racing with good friends from Caldwell , Ohio

  25. I raced there when I was 17, now I am 69 and live close by. Hope it last forever. Nothing better then a good old drag race.

  26. james e byers says:

    hi I live 5 miles south of the track. have 13 ac
    of wood 3 bedroom two bath house I might sell for 250.000 or start a racers camp ground what do you think ? I hope the track does well the town of west salem is a nice town

  27. r david hale says:

    david hale. 65 66 67 spent weekends at the first 4 lane drag way./towing from tx

  28. Larry Stanley says:

    I’m a Top Fuel Harley Racer Larry (Grey Ghost) Stanley. I would love to buy near the track. Anyone willing to sell would love to buy.

    • Paul shippers says:

      I remember watching you race when I was a kid in Gainesville Fl. You were friends with my dad in south Florida years ago.
      -Paul Shippers II

  29. I have been racing at Thomson for years they need to put about 20 million in that track.I will be first in line at 42 .

  30. WITH THE TRACK STARTING LINE BEING 25 TO 30 FEET BELOW STREET LEVEL AND THE MOUNDS ON EACH SIDE OF TRACK FOR THE GRANDSTANDS I WOULD THINK THEY DESIGNED LIKE THIS TO DEFLECT NOISE UPWARD. CAN’T WAIT FOR OPENING DAY!

  31. Late 1960’s regular with my 427 390 hp Heavy Chevy wagon. Great memories and friends.

    Jim Fenwick

  32. MY BROTHER AND I’ HAVE A LOT OF GOOD MEMORIES RACING AT THE TRACK ,PLAN ON MAKING A LOT OF NEW ONES. VARGA BROTHERS

  33. So Dragway 42 will be open this summer of 2016…. I am so excited i cant wait tok go an see the new track. Will miss the ol’ backwood track! But nice too have a track closer than Norwalk. Hope they didnt jack the entrance price up!!

  34. Ran the staging lanes at 42 when I was 17 and, mowed the grass and helped out any way I could during off days and in the winter!!! Man I miss just being a part of the place….Glad to see someone FINALLY putting something into the place!!! God knows Jack and Toby was never going to!!!

  35. Great to see the track being redone, I have a lot of good memories of my husbands racing days there from the 1970’s on. Glad to see Ron doing so well he is a great guy!

  36. All these comments and all I can think of is where do I buy opening day tickets! Seriously I want to buy opened in day tickets! Where do I find them?

  37. Patricia Silsby Bigley says:

    awesome to see this it was my first real job when i was 14 years old!!!!!

  38. Was there for the last race before the reconstruction(Rock and Race 2014). It was also where I went to my first drag race ever in 1972. I especially remember seeing the Snake and Mongoo$e there. I’m looking forward to seeing the new track and what Ron has done!

    • Mike Taylor says:

      Hey Bill – the Snake and the Mongoose was one heck of a show-I remember them as well.. Dragway 42 had so many great events!!! Rick Case appreciation day-all motorcycle races, the funny car nationals, not to mention the Grump!

  39. I was the assistant manager worked there several years with the late Glenn Anderson , wendy,and many other wonderful people.drag way 42 will always share special memories in my heart, I will sure come to visit.

    Butch. (Gene) dal

  40. S.D. Solomon says:

    Does anyone else realize this story was written last year & the track still isn’t open?

  41. Mark Voytek says:

    Glad to see this place renovated many fond memories there to the person complaining about living there you should move or if you were smart you might open a business that would cater to the racers and fans!

  42. Charles Davis says:

    When is it going to open?

    Chuck

  43. this is vic my brother roger young with his 1965 chevell spent a lot of days &nights.

  44. They just started paving the track after many set backs. Hopefully a go for season opener 2017

  45. It would be fantastic if they would open for the 2017 racing season. Do you know of any progress concerning the race track?

  46. frank seminsky says:

    I raced at the old track in the early 60!s, was the place to go for all my friends on the weekend. Anyone remember the dark horse and golden rod chevys. Live in Florida now but will be looking forward to visiting the track when I get back there.

  47. Ron Podvorac says:

    long over due can not waite stooked good deal great place to be on the week ends , thanks we can’t wait rocket ron

  48. Pingback: Dragway 42 Opens for Drag Racing May 26, Track Officials Say - OnAllCylinders

  49. Pingback: Photo Gallery: 2017 IHRA Summit Sportsman National Championship at Dragway 42 - OnAllCylinders

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