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As Nation’s Oldest Running Track, the Dragaway is an Institution

Friday, 16 June 2017

It’s the oldest operating purpose-built drag strip in the United States, but folks are still confused with two facts about Great Lakes Dragaway.

Yes, the International Hot Rod Association member track’s name is Dragaway, not Dragway, and it is in Paris, Wisconsin, instead of nearby Union Grove.

It was track founder Marge Bennett who first coined the term “Dragaway.”

She was working in California around World War II when she first saw drag racing. When she came back to Wisconsin, she and her husband, Lynn, decided to buy property for a drag strip. Current track co-owner Randy Henning explained she would say, “We’re going to build a drag strip so all my friends can just drag away.”

The historic track was opened in 1955, but, even literature today like the official Wisconsin state travel guide lists it in Union Grove, where the post office box is located. No problem for Henning and his partner, Marcel Kuper, who saw how much the historic track meant to both communities nine years ago.

After a flood left the drag strip covered in mud and debris, both communities pitched in with a fire truck and over 100 volunteers who came out with squeegees to clean the track’s surface.

“You run into people around the country and say, ‘Great Lakes Dragaway,’ and they say, ‘Union Grove, Wisconsin,’” Henning said. “It’s really in Paris, but our race track is strong and where it has been here so long, it’s truly a part of the community where everyone takes pride in it.”

Henning shares in the affection, going down the track the first time as a 16-year-old behind the wheel of a 1952 Chevy. He later raced a variety of machines including a Volkswagen, an Alcohol Funny Car and a Jet Dragster. He is currently working on a Wheelstander to resemble Richard Hutchins’ famous Chevy Rebellion Wheelstander.

Old-Photo-XVI

Throughout its rich history, the flashiest promoter was “Broadway Bob” Metzler, who often wore wild-designed sunglasses, air-brushed T-shirts and Zumba pants. Metzler, the first promoter ever inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, brought in concerts, parades, the circus and even motorcycle daredevil “Evil” Knievel.

“There is so much history there, from Broadway Bob to the salt-of-the-Earth people like Lynn and Marge Bennett who helped start the place,” said Henning, who has been an owner for over two decades. “So many people have worked real hard to make it a success and we’ve just continue to work hard at it so we can make incremental improvements.”

cackle-row

But, the dragaway’s main appeal has always been the racing with such names as “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Shirley Muldowney frequent visitors to the track. It remains one of the busiest tracks in America with racing six days a week during the season. They even host snowmobile drag racing, where the sleds are fitted with conversion kits to race on asphalt in the summer and race on snow in the winter.

“Since 1994, we’ve concentrated on just on drag racing,” said Henning, who along with his wife, have even served as EMTs at the track. “We’ve made it a drag strip under the banner that we want to be the biggest, little track in the world. We want to be the track where anyone can take their own car and go down the track six days a week to try it.”

Race-Track

The track features a combination of its own strongly supported programs, which includes special events for Nostaglia cars and Jet Cars, and the IHRA Summit SuperSeries. While the dragaway may be the oldest running track, Henning and crew remain committed to keeping up with the current longings of its racers, fans and local businesses.

“We’re committed to the grassroots, Sportsman racers and we have the IHRA Summit SuperSeries for those racers,” Henning said. “But, we also are committed to those who want to see a variety of drag racing. We do a lot of jets, and once a month, there are Pro Mods and Gassers. We have a big enough track where we can have multiple things going on at the same time. We even have an area set aside where a business can host an employee picnic.”

Last modified on Monday, 19 June 2017
     
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