HOUSE SPRINGS, Missouri — Historic Great Lakes Dragaway remains one of the busiest drag strips in the world.
The track, the oldest continually operating purpose-built drag strip in the country is gearing up for a monster schedule in 2023. Track operators Randy Henning and Marcel Kuper are longtime veterans, but still have the energy of men half their age.
While drag racing headlines the marquee, it seems there is always something going on at the Union Grove, Wisconsin track.
“We’re open more days than any other track, six days per week starting the end of March through the end of October,” Henning said. “Plus we have events going on through the winter like the Pinewood Shootout on January 1 when the guys bring the Boy Scout pinewood derby cars and race indoors. We have a Winterfest in January where we fill the place with snowmobiles.”
There is all kinds of racing and constant improvements at the facility which underwent major renovations in 2022. They’ve explained before that any day the temperature is over 20 degrees, there is something being done to upgrade the facility for the racers.
“Last year, we repaved the entire drag racing surface on the track,” Henning said. “There’s new asphalt up to the 1,400-foot line. I just drove down it yesterday and it’s so smooth. Most people improved their best ever times here last year because the track was so good.”
They also stock 25 different kinds of fuel.
In 2023, there are 14 bracket races through the IHRA Summit SuperSeries scheduled on seven double-header weekends. Great Lakes has quite a tradition as Patrick Sarauer (Box), Scott Pichette (No Box), Dave Bierer (Sportsman) and Charlie Weiler (Junior Dragster) earned berths to the IHRA Summit SuperSeries World Finals through the track point standings last season.
Henning explained the IHRA is a great fit for Great Lakes Dragaway.
“IHRA fits well into our attitude. We’re independent and have a lot of our own programs, but we also like to participate in the Summit SuperSeries bracket racing,” Henning said. “I just had a couple of the bracket racers here with me and we went through the track package from last year. We made some changes to make it easier to run and keep it as fair as one can possibly make it.”
People know they’re getting a fair shake at Great Lakes, and three of the biggest events on the calendar take place Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day weekends. Each of these yield strong car counts and lots of spectators in the grandstands. Always a favorite are the jet cars on the Saturday closest to July 4.
Great Lakes Dragaway, first opened by Lynn and Marge Bennett in 1955, has a history than few places can even come close to matching. Marge is the one who came up with the name “dragaway,” a place where her friends would drag away down the track.
So many stories pertain to former track operator “Broadway Bob” Metzler, the first promoter inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. While the biggest names in drag racing like “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Tommy “TV” Ivo, Shirley Muldowney, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Raymond Beadle have raced there, Metzler also brought in big concerts and even legendary stuntman Evel Knievel.
Henning, who first met Garlits when he was 12 years old, often raced against the big names when they visited the track.
“I’ve raced lots of different people including Aggie Hendricks in her jet,” Henning said. “I raced Tom McEwen with his Nitro Funny Car and my Alcohol Funny Car. He gave me a blink of a head start, but he still beat me.”
It’s just one of the many great stories shared about Great Lakes Dragaway. There are sure to be many more stories still to come. For more about this terrific historic track which has truly witnessed the evolution of drag racing, click here to check out the Great Lakes website.