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Great Lakes Dragaway Looking to Make More History with IHRA

Wednesday, 22 November 2023

UNION GROVE, Wisc. — Great Lakes Dragaway has a history unmatched in drag racing, but there’s also an emphasis on the future with a multi-year sanctioning renewal with the International Hot Rod Association.

The oldest continually operating purpose-built drag strip in the country is under the leadership of longtime track operators Randy Henning and Marcel Kuper. The pair of veteran promoters have a calendar full of great racing action.

The track is a longtime participant in the IHRA Summit SuperSeries, the most prestigious championship in all of bracket racing. Drivers who earned entry to the IHRA Summit SuperSeries World Finals through the Great Lakes points were: Patrick Sarauer (Box), Kyle Collins (No Box), Jacob Bierer (Sportsman), Anthony Carp (Junior Dragster) and Don DeBaere (Motorcycle). It was the second straight championship for Sarauer.

“We’ve been with the Summit SuperSeries as long as we’ve been with IHRA,” Henning said. “It has worked well since the Summit SuperSeries started.”

Great Lakes Dragaway was first opened in 1955 by Lynn and Marge Bennett, who coined the term, “Dragaway.” 

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Former track owner “Broadway Bob” Metzler, the first promoter inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, was one of the most colorful characters. He has been described by Henning as the “P.T. Barnum of Drag Racing,” and for good reason. He often delighted the crowds by riding down the drag strip on the nose of a jet car.

One of the most iconic images from Great Lakes legendary history is “Big Daddy” Don Garlits surrounded by fire on the starting line at the Wisconsin track. Shirley Muldowney later defeated Garlits in a legendary match race broadcast on ESPN where she set a track record of over 286 mph. 

Going back to 1970, a match race at Great Lakes featured the classic battle of Tom “Mongoose” McEwen versus Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. Other drivers like Raymond Beadle and Tommy “TV” Ivo have raced at Union Grove, while legendary stunt man Evel Knievel performed shows three straight days in 1973 where he made multiple  successful jumps over 13 vehicles.

Henning, who first met Garlits when he was 12 years old, often raced against the big names  like McEwen and Aggie Hendricks and her jet car when they visited the track.

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“Broadway Bob would match me up with anybody he didn’t have a match me up for,” Henning said. “Those were some neat experiences. I was the local amateur guy to be matched up with those people and it made me more well known. I had a lot of fun racing the Alcohol Funny Cars with those guys.”

While there’s plenty of nostalgia at Great Lakes Dragaway, it remains one of the most active tracks anywhere. Henning explained there is always something going on during the season and even some events afterwards.

“We race six days a week from the beginning of April to the end of October,” Henning said. “Then, we’re going some weekends until the snow sticks so hard to the ground that we can’t get it unstuck. After that, we race a drift track once or twice a month through the snow season.”

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Of course, none of it would be possible without the loyal support of so many racers. Henning believes the reinvestment in the track, like a facelift to the old track surface, repaved with new asphalt for a smooth track is a big reason people like coming there.

Whether there are hundreds of cars or only 30-40, there’s the same care put into track preparation.

“First of all, it’s a nice facility and it’s easy to race here,” he said. “We repaved the track and it’s as smooth as it’s ever been. We blow the track as much as we have to and we work hard every day to prep the track. I think we have the best overall hooking track. If you look at the whole year, we do a good job.” 

Click here to check out the Great Lakes website and learn more about this great drag strip and piece of Americana.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 November 2023

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