Beacon Dragway Brings NHRA Action to Area (VIDEO)
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - Jerry Thompson is looking forward to the beginning of a new era in Paducah. Beacon Dragway will open Saturday, bringing 1/8-mile NHRA drag racing to Western Kentucky every weekend through November.
Thompson, who owns a grocery in Smithland, has been drag racing since 1958. He remembers first racing in a 1955 Chevrolet, and having to travel to cities like Owensboro, Nashville, Memphis, and Harrisburg to compete through the years.
Thompson said he is looking forward to shorter drives to races from his Livingston County home, especially when the new Ledbetter bridge is completed. A closer track also means he will not have to use his covered trailer as often.
Beacon Dragway's owners, utility contractor and top-fuel racer Keith Murt and anesthesiologist Dr. Blane Grow, have been working to get the track ready since last fall. The pad previously used for PHI Medical helicopter is where the grandstands now sit, and a portion of the former Farrington Airpark runway was re-paved as the drag strip. Grow owns part of the property and leases the rest from neighbors.
Grow said after federal regulations made it difficult for Farrington Airpark to operate, he had some old-time racers pushing him to bring the drag strip back to the area, where McCracken County Dragstrip once operated in the 1960's and 70's.
"Keith was very visionary," Grow said. "He called me, and there had always been a glimmer of hope in my mind this could become a drag strip again, as it had in the early 70's. The old-timers had been begging me for years. He was the stimulus that got it going, and his suggestion came at the right place at the right time."
Murt added, "He had the facility and I had the 'want to.'"
No expense has been spared on the track, getting praise from drivers who have come to try it out. An NHRA official who recently visited told Grow it's one of the best tracks in the country.
"If you've got it at the big tracks, we've got it here," Bruhn said.
There's a restaurant and concession stand, a lounge with suites, and lots of access to the drivers and their cars in pit row. Hendron Fire Department has undergone SFI training, and the track has its own fire truck and emergency response vehicle, just in case.
The Dragway's Grand Opening is May 18, with the Funny Car Spectacular, and a total of sixty-two races will be held this year. Murt said next year, weather permitting, they hope to be racing from March to November.
Thompson and several other drivers made a few passes on the Beacon Dragway Friday, while members of the media looked on. It was their weekly "test-n-tune" night for all owners of cars, trucks, and bikes. Thompson brought his 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS to the dragway. Tommy Thomason brought his 1979 Chevrolet Malibu Classic stationwagon, and said he's been racing legally for about 10 years. He didn't elaborate much on his activities prior to that.
Track manager Jeff Bruhn said everyone is excited to get the track open, and provide a place for literally anyone to race, with Thursday evenings each week set up for "Fun and Grudge Matches".
"If you're 16 years of age and have a driver's license and a vehicle that's legal for the road, you can bring it out to the track and go ahead and drive it. One of the goals of that program is to get the kids off the streets, and give them a good safe place to come out and get things going," Bruhn said.
Members of the media got to ride as passengers in street-legal cars on the track, reaching speeds between 95 and 115 mph (see my video experience below). Everyone was excited to participate, and some even drove their own vehicles on the track.
Andy Waterman from NewsChannel 6 accepted a challenge, racing a Bristol Broadcasting vehicle on the asphalt. Although he reached a higher top speed, Waterman was beaten by just a few tenths of a second by Mark Ryan, driving 94.7 The Double Q's van (see that video below, too). Nobody was bragging about their company vehicle, though.
Murt said the excitement, action and noise will bring spectators to the dragway each weekend, and he's sure the drivers will come because of the prize money, too.
"We've got a big purse we're guaranteeing every week, so that's gonna be the biggest draw, cause all the racers, of course, are running for money. I think our purses are probably $300-400 per class more than what the rest of them are paying right now. So I think that'll draw the majority of them here," Murt said.
Everyone involved is hoping that Saturday's rain will not be as bad as expected, and their opening night of racing can go as planned. The track will be closed the following weekend (May 4) to support PIR's Lucas Oil Late Model Series.
"We're trying to be good neighbors," Bruhn said.
Saturday racing will resume on May 11 with a Mother's Day special, and continue through November 10.
Here is video from inside the car - recorded by Bill Hughes on his cellphone:
Here is the race between WQQR and WPSD vehicles:
Two dragsters taking practice runs on the strip:
On the Net: Beacon Dragway website with more information and schedule