Drag racing, like many sectors of business and society as a whole, has endured some profound effects resulting from the now two-year-old Covid-19 pandemic. For our sport, that has most visibly come in the form of an increase in racetrack closures — hardly a week goes by that Dragzine or another source of drag racing media aren’t reporting of the struggles of another ‘strip. Most notable among these have been the sale of the Atlanta Dragway by the NHRA, California’s Auto Club Dragway, the uncertainty of Florida’s Palm Beach International Raceway, and even Chicago’s Route 66 Raceway, which has been closed since 2019.
Some closures are permanent in nature, with redevelopment plans already in place and public. Others remain actively for sale or idle and with uncertain futures. For most of these facilities, the pandemic wasn’t the direct nor sole factor, but simply another hurdle in the business of operating a dragstrip in today’s world that they ultimately could not overcome. Factors partially related to the pandemic have included rising property values, an increase in demand for warehouse space by online retailers and big-box stores, and some track owners/operators who simply utilized the unexpected downtime to reassess their futures and chose a new path.
In total, 18 dragstrips have closed nationwide since January 1, 2019. That’s the bad news. But here’s the good news…because we believe all of the negative things reported here should be offset by something positive at every opportunity.
Drag racing historian and statistician Bret Kepner and TerraTracks Global Authority (TTGA) have, dating back many decades, painstakingly tracked the status (and the story and the geographical coordinates) of every single solitary dragstrip around the country. Even the ones that are long gone and never coming back. In other words, nobody knows dragstrips better than this group. According to TTGA records, 13 new dragstrips have been built since January 1, 2019, and 15 have reopened as of December 7, 2021. But the stat that will knock your socks off?
There are 423 active dragstrips in the United States as of this writing.
That number is likely to come as a surprise to those who believe drag racing peaked in the 1960’s, or even the 70’s or ‘80s. They would be wrong.
That 423 number is down a couple handfuls from what Kepner says was a high-water mark of somewhere between 440 and 450 active tracks in the mid-2010’s, but nevertheless, the “good old days” are right now. Never before have there been more places to drag race in this country than there have been over the last 5-10 years, and that stat remains true to this day. Sure, the trend is moving in the wrong direction a smidge, but this sport is still truly alive and well, and for many in various parts of the country, there are more tracks in easy driving distance than there are days in a week to visit them all.
As glam metal band “Cinderella” sang in 1988, you “don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” so get out and enjoy this sport while still in its prime, because you never know what the future may bring.