Race tracks ready for Saturday start, all but one
The dragstrip would've celebrated its 50th anniversary this season.
By KATIE LIBECCO
LIBERTY -- Nate Marino, 22, is thinking about selling his race-ready 1982 Z28 Camaro.
Sure, he's put a lot of work into the 350-HP four-speed drag car, but Marino says with the closing of the IHRA-sanctioned Quaker City Raceway in Salem, he doesn't have a lot of racing options.
& quot;I've been racing at Quaker pretty much every week since the summer of 2002. I used to do Wednesday night until they quit those, then I started doing Fridays, & quot; Marino said.
He said he just bought the Camaro and missed a lot of the last season getting it ready, only to learn that his favorite, and only local, dragstrip was closing.
Following the schedules of other tracks and schedules from previous years at Quaker, this weekend would have been the start of racing at the track. But it will be quiet this weekend.
& quot;My options right now are to not race and sell the car, since the nearest dragstrip is Sunset in Pennsylvania. Or, I'd have to buy a bigger truck and trailer for the races, & quot; he said.
If he continues to race, he said it's more than an hour-long drive from Liberty to Thompson Raceway or Sunset. It may not seem like much, but it's more than twice the 25 minutes it took Marino to get to Salem. The announcement that the track was closing came via the Quaker City Web site, & lt;a href= & quot;http://www.quakercityraceway.com & quot; target=blank_window & gt;www.quakercityraceway.com & lt;/a & gt;.
Owner Daniel Swindell posted a message to site visitors that read, & quot;It is with great regret that we announce the closing of Quaker City Raceway as a drag racing facility. We would like to thank all the racers that have traveled to QCR over the years. You the racers are what made the race programs what they were, we could not have done it without you. It is a shame we did not reach our 50th anniversary which was due this year and it is disappointing a piece of history is disappearing. & quot;
One track that is reaching its fiftieth anniversary this season is Dragway 42 in West Salem about an hour and a half from downtown Youngstown.
Track co-owner Toby Ehrmantraut said he thinks some people will race at his track instead, but he doesn't think everyone will relocate.
& quot;When a track closes, the general rule is about half those people will quit racing. A lot of people just park their cars and quit, & quot; Ehrmantraut said. & quot;I imagine that's what will happen there. & quot;
Ehrmantraut said he thinks if anyone lives close they'll come to Dragway 42, but location of the track is important.
& quot;People race where they race because of the people there, & quot; he said. & quot;I expect that this could hurt us for some of the special events because we'll just have fewer people to draw on. But maybe in the weekly programs we'll pick up a few of those Quaker guys. & quot;
Dragway 42 track officials announced earlier this year that they would help Quaker's racers by honoring gold cards given to last season's track champions. Gold cards are the standard way of permitting a track champion to race at that location for the next season, free of charge.
& quot;We decided to honor the gold cards awarded to last year's champions. They deserve to be rewarded for their accomplishment, & quot; Ehrmantraut said.
Dragway 42 will also hold their first weekly program of the season free as way of inviting new drivers and displaced racers. Saturday's test and tune kicks off the dragstrip's 50th anniversary.
Ehrmantraut said it's a way of telling racers, & quot;Enjoy the first one on us. & quot;
& quot;We're hoping some of the Quaker guys will come up and see what we have to offer, & quot; he said. & quot;Especially since it's free. & quot;
Sharon Speedway, Hartford's 3/8th-mile dirt track, is also starting its season Saturday. The track will continue to race its five divisions of racing: 410 sprints, pure stocks, V8 modifieds, e-modifieds and green flag sprints.
Kate Blaney at the Sharon Speedway said she hopes the motor enthusiasts of the area that were used to the 1/4-mile dragstrip would give dirt track racing a chance.
& quot;We're looking forward to greeting those Quaker City Raceway fans out here, & quot; Blaney said. & quot;We think they'll have a great time and we hope they'll come out and see what we have to offer, maybe get involved themselves. It's a lot of fun. & quot;
Sharon Speedway is offering a new discount to race fans this season. Anyone purchasing tickets who brings two cans of non-perishable foods will receive a 2 discount off an adult general admission ticket. The food will be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank.
"We wanted to do something to help the community and help our fans save some money, and the "Two for 2" program does both," Dave Blaney, Sharon Speedway co-owner, said in a release from the track. "We hope our fans will help us stock the shelves of Second Harvest Food Bank and enjoy the savings from doing so."
Nostalgic racers will still get one more chance to visit Quaker. Promoter Corey Ward said the Steel Valley Super Nationals will be held at the dragstrip June 22-24 as planned.
& quot;What I'm doing operates independently from the track. I have a race program coming out there and test and tune drag racing, & quot; Ward said. & quot;We'll be drag racing that whole weekend. & quot;
Ward said the weekend would try to combine the tradition of the SuperNats with celebrating Quaker City's 50 years.
& quot;We're going to race as many cars as we can, & quot; he said.
But Marino said one weekend of racing doesn't compare to the bonding of racers over the course of a season.
& quot;I met a lot of people out there. They were very helpful. It'd be like, 'Don't worry, I have that part,' or 'I can tow you home, & quot; Marino said.
He said the raceway closing also means the loss of a community of friends, although he still occasionally bumps into people he met there.
& quot;You'll be out somewhere and recognize someone from the track and just start talking about cars and racing, & quot; he said.
Big Thing for Salem
Salem mayor Larry DeJane said he's sad to see Quaker City close.
& quot;Quaker was certainly a big thing for us. It put us on the map. Salem was known for it's drag strip, & quot; he said.
DeJane said the track had a large impact on the community and it was one of the city's best, if not the best, tourist attraction.
& quot;It brought celebrities in from all over the country, & quot; DeJane said. & quot;Everyone in the area was very proud of it. & quot;
DeJane said he didn't know the current status of the property.
In the message to racers, entitled, & quot;End of an Era, & quot; the former owner Daniel Swindell said, & quot;While we tried hard to keep QCR a place to drag race, we could not accept anything less than market value for the facility. There were no bids for the facility as a whole, so we will be forced to diversify and use the facility for another purpose. & quot;
Officials with Thompson Drag Raceway, near Cleveland, and Magnolia Dragway were not able to be reached. However, shortly after news of Quaker's closing was confirmed, this message for racers was posted on Magnolia's Web site, & lt;a href= & quot;http://www.magnoliadragstrip.com & quot; target=blank_window & gt;www.magnoliadragstrip.com & lt;/a & gt;:
& quot;[Officials] would like to invite any Quaker City racers to the track for the upcoming season. It's a sad occurrence to have a nearby dragstrip close for good. Hopefully with everyone's support the same fate will not happen to Magnolia. & quot;
Magnolia is about an hour and a half southwest of downtown Youngstown, near Massillon.
Swindell did not return phone calls or e-mails regarding this story.