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Cathell Looks to Take US 13 Dragway to the Next Level

Thursday, 07 July 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Learning from some of the best promoters in motorsports, Mark Cathell has big visions for the family business.

Cathell has taken over US 13 Dragway which his family opened in 1963 on a parcel of land in Delmar, Delaware. Part of a complex now known as 302 Motorsportz Park, the quarter-mile drag strip is featured along with Delaware International Speedway, a half-time dirt track.

Over the years, the Cathell family have been innovators in the sport. Mark’s father, Charlie, is one of the pioneers of bracket racing. However, the time had come where the previous generation had talked about stepping away. That’s when Mark came in.

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“When my dad, aunt and uncle talked about retiring and possibly shutting the place down, I went to the family and told them I’d like to have a shot to carry the tradition on,” Cathell said. “We came up with a lease contract and we’re halfway through the season, well on our way to completing the first year.”

Already a top facility, US 13 Dragway was named the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Division 1 Track of the Year in 2016 and 2021, Cathell sees even more potential with a true motorsports complex located on 155 acres. He’s tried to put together a schedule that makes sense for both the promoter and the racers.

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“It used to be every Saturday night at the speedway and every Sunday at the dragway,” he said. “We’ve revamped the program to run the speedway Friday night once a month and run our bracket racing Saturday and Sunday. Other weeks, we will have the test-and-tune on Friday night.”

It is a busy schedule as they’ve hosted Monster Trucks and tractor pulls to utilize the space and bring in new people. There are 87 nights of events, although the main focus remains on the local racers.

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Those are lessons first taught by his family and later reinforced by working closely with the legendary Jeff Byrd when Cathell served as general manager of Bristol Dragway from 1998-2005. Byrd, who was a top executive for RJ Reynolds sports marketing before being named Bristol Motor Speedway President, was famous for the motto, “Exceed Expectations.”

“JByrd was the best mentor besides my dad that I ever worked with,” Cathell said. “He was a great guy who taught me a lot. He took Bristol to what it is today. I want to take this family business to the next level.” 

During his time at Bristol, Cathell also worked with legendary promoter and businessman Bruton Smith, who died June 22. Smith served as the founder and chief executive for Speedway Motorsports, which owns some of America’s largest racing venues and Sonic Automotive, which consisted of 160 dealerships over 23 states. 

Cathell recalled how Smith never took his customers or employees for granted.

“For a gentleman of his caliber and wealth, he was as down to earth as he could be,” Cathell said. “He always respected the people who worked for him. I had a lot of meetings with him, went on different trips. Bruton was always looking for the future and making it a better fan and racer experience.”

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Part of making it a better racing experience for US 13 Dragway was renewing the sanctioning agreement with the IHRA. The track operated under another group for decades, but found the last few years with IHRA to be a much better fit.

“We looked at the things that IHRA did and it catered more to the local racers,” Cathell said. “I kept telling my dad that it was a good move. Most of the tracks on the East Coast are in the IHRA program.”

He’s referring to the IHRA Summit SuperSeries programs. US 13 won the IHRA Division 1 Summit Team Finals title in 2020, while 2021 representatives at the IHRA Summit SuperSeries World Finals were: Rob Weltner (Top), Daryl Beauchamp (Mod), John Elias (Sportsman), Nicholas Bowie (Junior) and Christian Watson (EV).

It’s no surprise that US 13 Dragway has embraced the Electric Vehicles class. Over a decade before the official debut of Junior Dragsters, Charlie Cathell started a program in the 1970s where youth raced dirt bikes and mini bikes on the quarter-mile.  

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It was Mark Cathell’s first drag racing competition. Mark explained that he stair-stepped his way up to racing Super Street, Super Comp, grudge racing and bracket racing. It’s only natural that he now embraces the role of promoter.

“It’s always been in my blood. I was born and raised there,” he said. “I’m 56 now, and we’re working on the 59th anniversary of the race track.”

Click here to check out the Delaware Racing website and learn more about this historic, multi-purpose facility.

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