The Brown County Dragway in rural central Indiana was opened in 1963, and some might argue its useful life ended about the time Nixon took office. Its pit area isn’t sized to accommodate much more than flat-towed automobiles, its shutdown area made for speeds of a far bygone era. So far off the beaten path, tucked deep into the woods is it that it could easily be forgotten. To visit there is to go back half a century in time, as so little has changed since the beginning. But two weekends a year the place comes alive in a fashion many newer, more modern dragstrips would envy, as local promoter Jeff Thomas puts on his series of famous-yet-infamous War in the Woods no-prep drag races.
Touted by many as the sketchiest drag race in the country (and indeed worthy of consideration), War in the Woods is definitely not for the weak or weary. Its two narrow lanes are separated by a grass strip down the median, with strips of grass lining the outside edges of each lane. The track surface, much of it likely still circa-1963 asphalt and concrete, is bumpy and practically bare, receiving fresh rubber only twice a year. The shutdown is little more than an eighth of a mile in itself. And until a year ago, when its ownership installed new spectator fences, brave gawkers would line the guardrail the full length of the strip, only adding to the danger of the race.
The vibe, however, is off the charts. The facility is small and intimate, the trackside betting is rampant, the fans line the track and the return road cheering on the drivers, and the alcohol and the music flow all night long. And when they say it’s in the woods, they mean it, as campfires and people dot the dark, wooded hills that parallel the dragstrip like a bowled coliseum. The feel is much akin to a secluded street race, or perhaps a big bonfire party in the country, one so far removed from society and the law that you wonder if the outside world even knows anyone is out there.
Following a highly successful spring event, Thomas and his faithful supporters, including famed flashlight man Chris “Limpy” Collins, brought the show back to Brown County for the September finale. Racers from as far away as California, North Carolina, and Canada turned out to compete for the cash, and with them came enough fans to perhaps double the 2,900-strong population of the small town of Bean Blossom.
On Friday evening, well after the first round of off-the-trailer eliminations had already begun, fans continued to pour in the gates, double-file and down the road, as late as 9 p.m., trying to get in to see the much-hyped throwdown. Even in the rain, they kept on coming, all of them from who-knows-where, to see a race in the woods. On Saturday evening, Thomas had to turn people away, as there was simply nowhere left to pack cars and people into the property. Those who got there early saw a wild affair, as the drag race-party mishmash went almost clear to daylight on Sunday morning. When the dust and campfire smoke finally settled, Cali Nate Schaldach survived a field of 67 small-tire cars to collect the event’s biggest prize, $25,000, in his “My Little Pony” Fox body. Eric Trigalet also parked his 2,000-plus horsepower, nitrous-fed, big-block, all-steel Camaro in the Big Tire winner’s circle, and David Ballard won Hard Tire in his Chevrolet Nova.
Thomas is already hard at work preparing for the eighth edition of War in the Woods, and hints he may have plans for an even higher-paying contest next season.