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Bartunek Brings Passion for Racing to Union County Dragway Ownership

Thursday, 06 May 2021

John Bartunek has always loved cars, especially fast ones.

He owned an automotive repair shop in New York for 35 years, but found his other passion on the drag strip. He started bracket racing and then moved to Pro Mods and Pro Stocks. Earning a reputation as one of the fastest Doorslammer drivers on the East Coast, Bartunek still owns the 1962 Chevy II Outlaw 10.5 car that he last raced.

Once he retired and moved to North Carolina, Bartunek decided to fulfill another dream as a race track owner. He purchased Union Dragway, a 125-acre, IHRA-member track facility just 25 miles out of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The decision is one he didn’t take lightly, as it had been something he and a close friend had considered many moons ago.

“Years ago, I had a friend Jim Harrington who was a Stock / Super Stock racer that passed away. He lived in New Jersey when I lived in New York and we talked about getting a race track back then,” Bartunek said. “It never materialized, but when I retired Iast year and moved to North Carolina. It got my wheels spinning again about owning a race track.”

Bartunek was specific with what he wanted. He looked at a couple of tracks for sale, but he said, “They didn’t do much for me.” With his background, he wanted a track which could accommodate the guys in the slower classes, but also the fast door cars which he loved so much.

“A couple of the tracks I looked at were short. Then, I was on the phone talking to a friend of mine who knows Tony Brown, who runs Union County Dragway,” he said. “I had driven a Mountain Motor Pro Stock car for Team Aruba which was housed at Union, South Carolina.

“That led for me to meet with Tony. When I saw the track, it was long with a concrete surface and safe concrete walls. It’s a little diamond in the rough that needs some work, but I think we can make something of it.”

He found another diamond in the rough with Brown as the track manager, who is pictured with him. Since buying the track, Bartunek said Brown’s name constantly comes up in conversations with the racers.

“They love Tony Brown. He gets so much respect from the racers and it’s unbelievable how many people go there because of him,” Bartunek said. “I get a lot of people asking what I’m going to do with the facility. I tell them we can only put out one fire at a time, but we’re doing as much as we can as fast as we can. The future, I want to have a facility where we can run fast door cars, big bracket races and all kinds of stuff we all look forward to.”

Now on the other side of racing, Bartunek has gained a new respect for all that officials and other staff go through. He worked the staging lanes at Union Dragway’s last races and learned how confusing it can be at times.

But, he is quickly earning respect from the racers. They see he’s one of them and how his passion for drag racing shines through. Looking over the facility, he has eyes on areas to improve over the next year.

“The fact that I’ve been a racer that has a lot to do with getting the facility to a racer-friendly environment,” Bartunek said. “When I would pull into a race track, what would I look for as far as parking, the way everything ran. When I walk around the pit area, I want to clean it up and add some paving. I want to work on the facility like the bathrooms, the concessions and race track surface.

“I think that’s a big plus that I’m not just a businessman and not just trying to make money. I care about the sport, love the sport and the people that support it.”

He knows much of the drag strip’s support comes from the weekly racers. It’s why the IHRA Summit SuperSeries, the largest and most prestigious championship in bracket racing, plays such a big part of the track’s future plans.

It’s also a big part of Union Dragway’s past as the home track to Dustin Carroll, who claimed the first-ever IHRA Summit SuperSeries Sportsman world championship in 2019. Todd Sinclair (Top), Rickie Dunn (Mod), Josh Carroll (Sportsman) and Jaden Price (Junior Dragster) were IHRA Summit SuperSeries track champions in 2020. Bartunek wants to make the facility even better for the bracket contingent, while also making it more appealing to the other racers.

“I’m an original bracket racer and my heart goes out to all those guys,” he said. “Those are the guys who support you week-in and week-out. I want to get the facility to the point where we have the proper parking for pro-style cars where we can do some Quick 8 races. We want to have the money races for Sportsman cars and all that kind of stuff.”

For more about Union Dragway, click here to visit the track’s website.

Last modified on Thursday, 06 May 2021