Situated high atop the scenic rolling mountains of West Virginia in the unincorporated mining community of Twin Branch sits one of the finest new 1/8-mile drag strips in the country. Built in the middle of the last decade, it features a highly-desirable all-concrete racing surface, a generously-long asphalt shutdown area, fully poured concrete retaining walls its entire length, underground conduit for the electronic timing system, and a million-dollar view that few other tracks can equal.
And some six years on, the echoes of nary a single racecar have ever reverberated through the hills.
The Twin Branch Motorsports Complex has been in the works since 2005 — a unique venture between state and county officials, private businesses, and area racers, the property the Twin Branch ‘strip sits on was donated by the mining company that formerly operated on the site to the county as part of a post-mining land use project. Consol Energy, a competitor to the land doner, Massey Energy, was operating on an adjacent site, and became involved in the project as part of a plan to maintain its mining permit and save jobs.
The county gained permission from the Economic Development Administration to allow Consol to use the donated and yet-to-be-developed site for dumping of materials from its own mining operations. In return, Consol donated labor, materials, and equipment for the construction of a dragstrip. In all, Consol Energy invested $2.5 million into the project, the Mingo County Commission $300,000, and the Logan County Commission $200,000. With that, a new raceway serving the southwest portion of West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and western Virginia was born.
The Twin Branch ‘strip was built, nestled atop and uniquely contoured to a narrow ridge on the former mine, and quickly received IHRA sanctioning. A ribbon-cutting and open house was held for more than 1,000 racers and hot rodders to a get a peek at the new facility and create interest in the endeavor in early 2016. A year later, still sitting dormant, accomplished track operator Pete Scalzo successfully negotiated a lease agreement on the facility wherein he would provide the means for a timing tower, scoreboards, lighting, grandstands, a timing system, and other key equipment for conducting drag races.
In 2017, Scalzo said the city and the taxpayers “don’t know anything about the drag racing business. They won’t want anything to do with it, but what they see, rightfully so, is tremendous economic development. They told me ‘we don’t want to be in the drag racing business, but we do want this as an engine for economic development’…that’s what they’re interested in. I believe this is a win-win situation for them.”
It’s like looking at a brand-new Lamborghini sitting in a field with weeds around it. – Tom Wilson
Scalzo told Dragzine in the September 2017 interview that he hoped to begin the final phases of construction that fall and open the gates to racers the following spring. But in the years since, news out of Twin Branch has fallen silent — the result of red-tape between the county, various state and county departments, and adjacent land owners.
Scalzo commends the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority for its tireless efforts in overcoming all of the hurdles put in its way, but the one that remains relates to use of the lone winding roadway leading to the site.
In an effort to get the track open, Mingo county had in recent years worked out an agreement with the ownership of the mine, Southeastern Land, LLC — a subsidiary of Booth Energy — for maintenance to be handled by the county during the racing season. In early 2020, the adjacent mine was sold to JMP Holdings LLC, which operates Coal-Mac and acquired the road as part of the sale.
Despite local reports to the contrary, Scalzo insists Coal-Mac CEO Mitch Potter is “all for the dragstrip. He owns a large side-by-side and ATV dealership in West Virginia, so he’s all excited about this opening. He’s been supportive, so it’s not like the new coal company owner doesn’t want this to happen.” Coal-Mac, in fact, turned the roadway over the West Virginia Department of Highways and has signed off on its use by the racetrack.
Scalzo and business partner Tom Wilson say the holdup instead rests with the Department of Highways and Departments of Natural Resources in sorting out maintenance and permitting of the road.
And so, the shiny new Twin Branch sits, like a wrapped Christmas gift forgotten in the closet. During the warm months of the year Scalzo says he treks up to the track and cuts the grass and works to keep the elements from taking over before he can open its gates. He says the facility will also be hydro-seeded to create lush, green grass surrounding the ‘strip.
“It’s like looking at a brand-new Lamborghini sitting in a field with weeds around it,” Wilson told The Logan Banner last year. Scalzo added to Dragzine: “it’s absolutely beautiful there, just a beautiful area. And just imagine you’re racing there and the seasons are changing and the trees are changing color…it’s beautiful.”
Local residents have continued to advocate for the raceway, recognizing the economic opportunity and the resource it provides local youth and racers.
“This ain’t even just the tip of the iceberg of what the track can do,” Donnie Bishop, a Mingo County native, told The Logan Banner. “Younger kids, just everybody in general — it’ll help the area to promote tourism, it’ll tie into the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. It’s a no-brainer. You might as well say that it’s a win-win actually for the whole state because there’s no drag strip in the whole state of West Virginia. It can bring a lot to southern West Virginia.”
“The coal industry is really, really hurting right now, so you would think they would be highly motivated to bring some money in and bring an economic boost to the area,” Scalzo says, adding that he’s hopeful the red-tape can be cut in due time, “whether it’s six months from now or two or three years.”
Scalzo holds a 12-year lease on the dragway, but has since taken the equipment he planned to use at Twin Branch to a makeshift new track in Long Island, New York. But he assures that when the time comes, he will be back to Twin Branch. “We thought we were at the finish line going into this season, and here we are…we lost another season. If they told me tomorrow we could move forward I could do it in 30 days, but the season would almost be over by the time we’d be ready, so it’s really a shame.”
“Get it done,” Scalzo sternly exclaims to the state in closing. “Get it done, whatever it takes, so we can welcome people into the community. Just get it done.”