National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio is one of the most historic drag strips in the Midwest and has played host to some of the biggest moments in drag racing. Wally Parks saw the potential of this iconic facility and brought the NHRA Spring Nationals to the track in 1972; the event was so huge the gates had to be closed because the track was at capacity. Later, the NHRA would go on to purchase the track and continued to host nationals and divisional races at the facility.
National Trail was recently purchased by Shelby LLC and has been going through some extensive renovations to make it a top-tier track once again.
Business partners Chris Payne and Todd Crossley went public with the purchase of NTR early in 2017, much to the surprise of the drag racing world. The duo already had acquired the troubled Heartland Park Topeka and had been working on making it a top notch facility again and intended to do the same with their newly purchased track.
According to Heartland Park Topeka President Scott Gardner, NTR fit the mold for what Payne and his senior management were looking for in a track to bring into their portfolio.
“When looking at purchasing facilities, the key areas to consider are location, population, facility size and layout, history, and the foundation of events and racers. National Trail Raceway has a rich heritage of which will be great to work from. They have also had a very sound and popular sportsman series. So when considering all the factors, it appeared to be a good facility to acquire.”
Buying the track was probably the easiest step for the team at Shelby LLC … what to do after the purchase is when the real work had to begin.
There were many facets that needed to be addressed, like staffing, operations, functionality, and facility upgrades, so work began right away. “We’ve already completed a large construction project with the repaving of the staging lanes and asphalt area of the racetrack, plus more. We have a list of many other priorities that include the expansion of events we offer, bigger promotions, expansion of sponsorship programs, and more. We’re just scratching the surface,” Gardner says.
The staging lanes, track apron, and asphalt from the 660-foot mark on were all repaved as part of the first wave of upgrades at NTR. There are also many other smaller projects in progress around the facility, including the replacement of the fencing to give the track a fresh feel. There is even more on the table when it comes to upgrades in the very near future, including new seating, new shutdown lighting, fixing the main racer entrance as it relates to pooling and flooding of water, and new and improved restrooms, as Gardner shared.
It’s not like NTR was in a total state of disarray, but with new ownership will come an infusion of enthusiasm that will no doubt push the track to new levels. This eagerness should be welcome to all the racers who call the track home. “Our passion and intent is to bring NTR back to its golden days. We know it’s true we can’t go back in time, but we do know we can promote and market events from a more aggressive standpoint that will bring racers, fans, and sponsors back. We aren’t looking to dramatically change the types of events, but we plan to add more of them,” Gardner says.
Gardner sees that NTR already has a solid base of events that have a huge draw, so adding races to complement what’s there won’t be an issue at all. “Thankfully, we have a great base of events with the NMRA, Import Face-Off, the Mopar Nationals, the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, Jr Dragster Buckeye Open, Goodguys, and more. We will likely add some No Prep events, heads-up racing, expand the Night of Thunder with an extensive nitro element, and more.”
The transformation that’s going on at NTR is nothing short of amazing considering how many tracks are closing these days, rather than opening. Not only is the team at Shelby looking to maintain the facility, but they’re really looking to expand what NTR is truly capable of.
“With so many goals, I think it’s best to describe our vision as wanting to resurrect the facility and bring back racers, fans, and sponsors who might have stepped away. To do this, we need to do the physical repairs and then work on the marketing aspects. The management at NTR, I describe as having been throttled-back in many cases. We will be operating the facility from a different expectation and understand what is required to meet that expectation,” Gardner explains.
It’s an exciting time to be a racer in the Midwest with a track like National Trail Raceway on the comeback. There’s some great racing in the future at this iconic facility and racers from around the country will get to enjoy this reborn track for years to come.