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