A decade in the making and for years — even after its construction — shrouded in uncertainty, the Almost Heaven Motorsports Park (previously known as Twin Branch Motorsports Complex) in West Virginia finally swung its gates open for the first time on Saturday. A “soft launch,” according to its majority leaseholder, Tom Wilson, the test-and-tune–only event played host to over 300 racers and some 3,000 spectators, who lined their way up the twisting coal mine road and out onto highway 119 to get a first glimpse at the ‘strip that had been talked about for years.
The IHRA-sanctioned 1/8-mile, built atop a former coal mine in the town of Delbarton, is the product of a joint venture between state and county officials and private businesses, including the former mining company, to repurpose the land for public use. The track was constructed in the mid-2010’s, but remained caught in bureaucratic processes, as its longtime leader Pete Scalzo, and Wilson, patiently awaited the payoff.
The final hurdle, as reported here on DRAGZINE last year, was the state taking ownership of the road leading up to the track that was formerly the main access to the coal mine. Once that was complete and paving was completed, the track could, at long last, move forward.
“I don’t know what I could have done to make it any softer, but it was packed,” Wilson says of the opener, which he plans to follow up with a more official, grand to-do to begin the 2023 season.
“I changed the name to Almost Heaven Motorsports Park, because the Twin Branch name had such a bad reputation for false ribbon-cuttings and political leverage, so I came in with the new name, and it has spread like wildfire. People here would rather hear this name river Twin branch — they tell me they’re so glad we did that, because every time they’d hear Twin Branch they would cringe. It’s a pice of heaven up there, it’s almost on top of the world,” Wilson says.
Wilson has a bracket race and test-and-tune planned for this weekend to wrap the short season, and will then proceed with a 58-race schedule planned for 2023, running from April 1 though October 31. He also intends to install a 200-foot sand dragstrip for ATV racers this winter to satisfy the huge ATV/UTV community in the area, and also wants to add an obstacle course and a hillclimb to make it a true motorsports complex.
Wilson maintains an exclusive and very favorable lease agreement with the state that will continue for an undetermined period until the track has established itself. Because, as he says, “they’re not in the racetrack business,” he anticipates it will be for sale at some point in time and he “hopes I’m the one that’s put enough money away to buy it.”
“They’re [the state] tickled-pink with what they have seen already. They had no idea about the crowd that drag racing would bring to that area, and being that we’re the only IHRA-sanctioned track in the state, I think we’re going to grow tremendously.