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Drag Strip List

A Comprehensive Encyclopedia

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MICHIGAN

Capitol City Airport (Lansing) (1950)
Livonia "Drag Strip" (1953)
Central Michigan Dragway (Stanton) (1955)
Kellogg Air Field (Battle Creek) (1955)
Reynolds Field (Jackson) (1956)
Motor City Dragway (New Baltimore) (1957)
Tecumseh Municipal Airport (1957)
Detroit Dragway (1959)
Hagar Township "Drag Strip" (1959)
Thunderbird Dragway (Muskegon) (1960s)
Onondaga Dragway (1962)
Ubly Dragway (1962)
US 131 Dragway (Martin) (1962)
International Acres Raceway/Grattan International Speedway (1962)
Milan Dragway (1963)
Tri-City Dragway (Saginaw) (1966)
Brohman/M-37 Dragway (1967)
Lapeer International Dragway (1968)
Manistee County Dragway/Northern Michigan Dragway (Kaleva) (1970)
Nick's U.S. 41 Speedway (Ishpeming) (1972)
Kinross Dragstrip (1980s)
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Motor City Dragway in New Baltimore, Michigan, in 1958. Photograph by Steve Wolski

Brohman/M-37 Dragway

  • Years of Operation:  ca. 1967-75

Sam Jackson, who owned a septic tank business, built this drag strip in about 1967 or thereabouts.  Documentation, except for the memories of old timers, is sparse. The track purportedly closed to a lack of racers and a legal suit involving one of the racers.
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Capitol City Airport (Lansing)

  • Years of Operation:  1950-ca. 1953

Drag races were held on a runway at this airport located three miles north of Lansing at least as early as 1950.  Proclaimed drag racing announcer Jon Lundberg attended his first drag race here when he was thirteen.  The Lansing Pan Draggers car club sponsored the races. Racing stopped when the CAA decided the drag racing interfered with air travel.
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Central Michigan Dragway (Stanton)

  • Years of Operation: 1955-present
 
Central Michigan Dragway began operation at least as early as 1955. Jon Lundberg, the most sought-after announcer in drag racing in the 1960s, got his start at Central Michigan at one of the early races in 1955. With about 300 spectators, he stood on a 55-gallon oil drum with a megaphone to describe the action.  They held a couple of races there on gravel before paving it. The first half of the World Series of Drag Racing was held at this strip on July 4-6, 1958.  They anticipated that there would be 500 racers. The second half of the World Series event was to be held in Moline, Illinois, in August. Laylin Lloyd Jewett, age 33, from Mason, Michigan, was killed at this drag strip after being clocked at a reported 125 MPH on September 14, 1958. The World Series of Drag Racing was also held here on July 1-4, 1961, awarding  $6,000 in prize money in 77 classes. On October 15, 1961, Nick Bakewell, a school teacher from Akron, Ohio, set a new Michigan acceleration record with a blast of 228.187 MPH in his Jet Star Dragster jet-powered car. The drag strip is now (2015) called Mid-Michigan Motorplex. In its early years, news reports identified it as being south of Edmore or in McBride, and then in 1961 news reports identified its location as being in Stanton.Its present location is on 2629 N. Wyman Road in Stanton.
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CLICK HERE to see video footage of 1990 racing at Central Michigan Dragway, 14 minutes

Detroit Dragway

  • Years of Operation: 1959-98

Gilbert Kohn was the moving force behind Detroit Dragway. He convinced NHRA to hold its 5th National Championship drag races at the new 4,100-foot long strip in the track's inaugural year. Research hasn't uncovered the track's opening date, but the Nationals were held on September 3-7, 1959. The event attracted 783 race entries. Rodney Singer from Houston got top eliminator in his blown Lincoln dragster with a string of 9.70s. He took home a new El Camino as a part of his prize winnings. Art Arfons set the top speed of the meet in his Allison-powered Green Monster II with a 172.08 MPH run on gasoline. Fuel was still banned by NHRA in 1959. This event made Detroit Dragway a mecca for drag racers for a couple of decades. The U. S. Nationals were run at Detroit in 1960, too. Top eliminator of the meet was Leonard Harris, from Playa Del Rey, California. He ran a 9.25 in the finals in his Olds-powered A dragster. George Montgomery became the first two-time Nationals winner when he successfully defended his 1959 Little Eliminator title in his Cadillac-powered A/GS Willys. The following year, the U.S. Nationals moved to the new Indianapolis Raceway Park, where it has been held ever since. On May 29, 1963, Chuck Hatcher was driving Walt Arfons' "Wingfoot Express" jet car when he crashed into a retaining wall at the end of the strip. He was making some test runs in preparation for a later assault on the world's land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

 
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July 3-4, 1962
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Detroit Dragway in 1966, 3 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to listen to old radio commercial spot for Detroit Dragway, 50 seconds

Hagar Township "Drag Strip"

  • Years of Operation: 1959

Lyman Danneffel bought 41 acres of farm land from Eugene Kahn in Hagar Township for the express purpose of building a concrete quarter-mile drag strip. Danneffel said that his son, Lyman Jr., would run the drag strip. Construction was to begin in July and they expected the strip would open by August 1, 1959. It was located a half mile north of Twelve Corners. Research uncovered no more than this prospective information. Whether the strip was ever completed or operational is in question.
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International Acres Raceway/ ​Grattan International Speedway

  • Years of Operation:  1962-ca. 1973

E. J. Faasen built a 3,000-foot long drag strip incorporated into a 2-mile road course on land owned by Bill Tuttle just north of the hamlet of Grattan. The  track is located 25 miles northeast of Grand Rapids. NHRA sanctioned the track for some years, but dropped its sanctioning after a car couldn't stop and ended up in a cornfield.  It was listed as one of 325 U.S. drag strips in 1968 published in an issue of the Swedish magazine Start & Strip . Fredrick G. Septrion was killed in a drag racing crash during time trials  on Sunday, June 5, 1966. It was called Grattan International Speedway in 1970. The track (now called Grattan Raceway)  continues to operate the road course racing for motorcycles and sports cars.
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Kellogg Air Field (Battle Creek)

  • Years of Operation: 1955-ca. 1960?

The Battle Creek Rod and Custom "Rod Benders" Club scheduled a couple of quarter-mile drag races on a taxi-way on the west side of Kellogg Field in 1955. One meet was held on August 21 and another on October 23, 1955. Trophies were awarded to class winners. You reached the racing area by driving on a one-lane dirt road outside the Air National Guard fence off Dickman Road. 
CLICK HERE to see location on a map
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Kinross Dragstrip

  • Years of Operation: 1980s

Drag races were purportedly conducted in the 1980s on a runway of Chippewa County International Airport on the southern outskirts of Kinross. More research is needed.
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Lapeer International Dragway

  • Years of Operation: 1968-present

Brothers Ed and Mike Vakula owned a meat market and farm in Lapeer. Ron Starking, a teenager working for them in the market, broached them with the idea of building a drag strip on their farm. After some battles with the township for approval to build it, they did. The track is 60 feet wide and 4,000 feet long. The quarter-mile drag strip opened on July 4, 1968 under AHRA sanction. It was listed in the January 1969 issue of Hot Rod as operating under NHRA sanction. Over the years the track has featured several prominent racers to complement their bracket racing staple and draw crowds. These have included "The Michigan Madman"  E. J. "Parachute" Potter, funny car driver Della Woods, and Art Arfons. The latter set a strip mark of 288 MPH in 1972 in his "Green Monster" jet dragster. In 1989, Ed bought brother Mike's share of the operation and remains the sole owner to this day. Ed and his wife, Juli, are in the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
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CLICK HERE to see  video footage of Lapeer Dragway in 2010, 1 minute, good view of tower, length of strip, return road

Livonia "Drag Strip"

  • Years of Operation: 1953-54

In 1953 Robert Baumgartner, a lieutenant with the Livonia Police Department, sought permission from General Motors to use a concrete entry road into their new Chevy factory for drag racing on weekends.  The road, called Amrhein, ran between Eckles Road and Levan Road and was ¾ mile long. The automakers OK'd the request. It was an immediate success. Races were supervised by the police department. Not only did car-related accidents decline sharply in the Detroit metro area, but the Livonia site eventually became the venue for professional racers. The Michigan Hot Rod Association conducted a 1-day drag race on the road, blocked off by the police, in August 1954.  The event attracted 4,000 spectators to watch 93 cars compete.
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CLICK HERE to see historic 8mm video footage of Livonia's Amrhein Road,  summer 1953

Manistee County Dragway/Northern Michigan Dragway (Kaleva)

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  • Years of Operation: 1970-present

First owned by Jim Ledford, the Manistee County Dragway, located three miles north of Kaleva, opened on May 30, 1970. It was an unfortunate beginning as one person was killed and another injured on opening day. Howard Nickelson of Ludington was driving his dragster when his clutch exploded when he was about half way down the track. Alan W. Merritt, age 24, of Manistee, died about one hour after being hit by a piece of the hurling pressure plate. The driver sustained a broken foot.
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1970
CLICK HERE to see  video footage of track record-holding Red Baron dragster on July 21, 1991, 4.84 ET & 142 MPH, 2 minutes

Milan Dragway

  • Years of Operation: 1963-present

Recollections of old timers date the founding of this strip to 1963. Cliff Riley was one of the first owners (if not the first) in the '60s and '70s. Bill Kapolka has been the owner since 1989. On July 5, 1964, Bob Smith was seriously injured when the two parachutes of his jet dragster pulled loose and he crashed through an end-of-track barrier into a wheat field at over 200 MPH. He suffered numerous broken bones.  It is presently an IHRA sanctioned quarter-mile strip. It has a 150-foot concrete starting pad, 3,520 feet long, with a 400-foot sand trap.
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CLICK HERE to see  video footage of Milan Dragway, nostalgia race in 2012, 2 minutes
CLICK HERE to see  8mm video footage of Milan Dragway, 1963, 2 minutes

Motor City Dragway (New Baltimore)

  • Years of Operation: 1957-78
 
Dave Lyall wa a teen-aged member of the Tappet Tickers in 1956, a Michigan Hot Rod Association-sanctioned Hot Rod Club, The dues paid by club members was used to fund the purchase of the land in New Baltimore. Club members were also required to work at the track site to get it ready for construction. The track finally opened in the summer of 1957, with very primitive facilities, including a pnenumatic timing system. Races were started by a starter flagman. The timing clocks were operated with an air hose attached to a hand-held pole under a front tire of the race car, starting the clocks (an official pulling it away from the rear tires after the launch so it would not get damaged) and another air hose crossing each lane of the track at the finish line, which stopped the clocks. Later additional air hoses were added at the finish lin to facilitate recording speeds. An official stood at each side of the finish line with a flag. The official in the winner's lane raised his flag to indicate to the officials and spectators which lane was the winner. At an April 19, 1959 race, Harold Smith garnered the top speed in his blown Chevy dragster with a 132 MPH clocking. Connie Kalitta was second fastest with a 126 MPH run. In 1965, Motor City was sanctioned by NASCAR. On May 20, 1967, Dick Sawallich was killed at the track in a racing accident. It was listed in the January 1969 issue of Hot Rod as a sanctioned NHRA track.
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Motor City Dragway in 1968, 3 minutes, music only/no sound
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Nick's U. S. 41 Speedway (Ishpeming)

  • Years of Operation: 1972-late 1970s

Nick Valenti built a quarter mile drag strip on the runway of the old Dexter Landing Field located on U.S. 41 seven miles west of  Ishpeming in Ely Township. He had the help of a couple of racing enthusiasts including Jim Sodergren. Nick initially also wanted to build adjacent quarter-mile and half-mile oval track, but that plan fell through by fall 1972. The Evergreen Drive-In was on an adjacent lot. The track was a half-mile long, 60 feet wide, and very basic and was not sanctioned. In fact, the first starting lights were built, almost unbelievably, out of an erector set! The track opened on Saturday, July 29, 1972. Trophies and cash prizes were awarded. Nick repaved the old runway. Eventually the pit area and return road were paved, but the fast cars had to slam on the brakes hard to prevent hitting an iron gate at the end of the track. In 1977 the track record was 10.23 set by Pat DePetro. The track had to close when the owners of the land, Cleveland Cliffs Iron (CCI), wanted the land back to pursue their mineral rights. The site of the old drag strip is now a gravel pit.
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1975
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Onondaga Dragway

  • Years of Operation: 1962-78, 2013-present

Recollections of old timers date the founding of this strip to 1962. Research in old newspapers found documentation to as early as 1964. Harold Sears and his two brothers built the track. It was only 1,850 feet long when first built. That meant for some very heavy braking to get cars stopped before they would get into the sand trap. They later bought some more land so they could extend the length of the track. The track attracted crowds by bringing in jet cars, wheelstanders, and racers like Don Garlits and Dick LaHaie. One old timer fondly recalled all the big-name racers:  "Onondaga was my home track in the '60s. I saw Art Arfons run there. The only time I remember a lack of shutoff was EJ Potter and the Bloody Mary having an issue with a stuck throttle.  He unloaded but the bike just kept on going, it mowed down trees. Maybe we didn't know any better, but Top Fuel ran there.  Connie Kalitta was a frequent runner there. We had some kick Ass Super Stocks--Ramchargers, Serbay Motors, Mad Moose.  Bill Goodwin of JR Headers had a '64 Dodge called the Raven. Also had match races by touring pros. I remember Gas Ronda and his Thunderbolt, Arnie 'The Farmer' Beswick raced there quite a bit. I raced everything I drove including my dad's 1957 Olds, but had most success with my 1966 425-horse Vette. Spent many a Sunday at Onondaga . . . . We had quite a few racers that became famous besides Kalitta. Dick Griffin with his Turbo Corvair cut quite a swath. Dick Lahaie and his Sugar Cookie also raced there often. . . . Onondaga was one of first tracks that the Swiss Cheese Pontiacs ran. There was a car club from Adrian named Asphalt Angels that fielded quite a few cars including a then-new '62 Impala 409."  Ken Sears was just a little boy when he did odd jobs for his father (Ken) and uncles at the track. He recalled some of the funny things that happened there.  One time they had two jet cars racing side by side. "On the 1st run," Ken said, "they blew the dog houses away that were covering the lights for the clocks on the starting line. On the second run my Dad and Uncle Harold Sears each held on to a doghouse so they wouldnt blow away. They didn't blow away but both of them came away with singed eyebrows and hair and no hair on their arms." They held special attractions like bikini contests, a guy explode in a wood box on the starting line, and penny scrambles for the kids.  "They even had a streaker one Saturday night," Ken remembered, "funny, nobody caught her before she ran the whole quarter mile. My Uncle Harold Sears, . . .  being the nice guy he was, took his Jeep down to the end of the track to give her a ride back. As I recall it took quite awhile for him to get back to announcing that night." Jon Lundberg, in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, got his start announcing drag races at Onondaga. Ken recalled that the brothers sold the track because the size of the crowds started to drop or, maybe, because they just got tired of it. There was an attempt to reopen the track in 1985, but it failed. Then in 2007, Ray Comer, who owned the site of the old track was approached by drag racer Dan Pranshka. Pranshka asked if he could do some testing on the old track. Comer said fine. Some local racers took notice and for the next few years, ran their cars on weekends making passes down the track. With the number of these racers steadily growing, Pranshka and Comer sought permission from the township to reopen the track to the public. They were given temporary permission in 2010, but this opened a can of worms. A small group of local residents spent the next two years fighting it. Undismayed, Pranshka, Comer, and several others pushed ahead, removing every stumbling block in their way. They rebuilt the whole facility and re-opened the old race track in 2013. In 2015, it obtained IHRA sanction as an 1/8th-mile track.
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CLICK HERE to see video footage of racing on the old track in 2009 before it was rebuilt, 34 minutes

Reynolds Field (Jackson)

  • Years of Operation: 1956

Nine thousand people watched two hundred racers at, what newspapers wrote, was the first sanctioned drag race in Michigan on August 26, 1956. It was held on a runway at Reynolds Field, two miles west of Jackson, which dates back to 1940.
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Tecumseh Municipal Airport

  • Years of Operation: 1957-early 1960s

A drag race was held on a runway at the airport on July 14, 1957, but there were probably races conducted there even earlier. It may have been in operation as early as 1956 as an old timer recalled seeing Art Arfons turn 248 MPH there that year. When airplanes needed to land, they would halt the racing.  Located north of town, it is today known as Meyers-Diver's Airport. The asphalt runway is 2,660 feet long. 
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Thunderbird Dragway (Muskegon)

  • Years of Operation: 1960s-2008

A 3/8th-mile dirt oval was built in Muskegon in 1958 by Wink Bliech, a shoe salesman. He called it Birchwood Speedway. Roger and Joanne Joneson bought the oval in 1960. The Joneson’s renamed Birchwood Speedway to Thunderbird Raceway during the period they owned it, but at least by 1969. It was probably sometime in the 1960s that they built an adjacent drag strip. The drag strip has had an on again-off again history.The track has had one fatality, which caused it to suspend drag racing for good. On May 28, 2008, Larry Eaton, age 57, lost control of his altered after his engine malfunctioned. He was severely injured after his car flipped over and he passed away from his injuries six weeks later. The bumpy condition of the race track became an issue of discussion after the accident and the race track suspended operation. It appears to be closed for good.
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1982

Tri-City Dragway (Saginaw)

  • Years of Operation: 1966-78

A quarter-mile drag strip was built by Reed Draper, the owner of a Saginaw GM dealership, in 1965 adjacent to (on east side) the Tri-City Airport (MBS International Airport today). The track opened in 1966, 4500 feet long and 60 feet wide. It's staging area was six lanes wide, paved for 600 feet. The paved pit area was 50,000 square feet. It had a 1000-foot long paved fire-up road leading to the staging area. During its heyday, the track brought in all the big-time exhibition and match racers and drew large crowds. The track ran under NHRA sanction at least as early as 1967, if not before, running every Sunday from April through October. Dragster pilot Chuck Kurzawa, who drove fuelers there from 1967-74, remembered it fondly as being the best strip in Michigan. The track closed its doors in 1978, due to a conflict between racers and strip management. Apparently the sportsman racers had paid entry fees to race, but rain forced cancellation of the event in spring 1978. The strip manager (Bill McKenna) wouldn't honor their rain-cancelled entry fees at a subsequent event. The racers boycotted the track, but McKenna wouldn't budge. This deadlock resulted in the track owner deciding to pull the plug on any more racing. GM occasionally used the track for testing purposes afterwards occasionally. In 1990, racing interests tried unsuccessfully to re-open the strip. Although the strip and parking area were privately owned, the pit area was on ground leased from the airport. The airport commission voted not to lease the property. In the late 1990s, the airport bought the strip/parking area land.
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Tri-City Dragway in 1970s, 2 minutes, music only/no sound

Ubly Dragway

  • Years of Operation: 1962-present
 
Opening in May 1962, the track was owned and built by racer Harry Schmidt. Races were held every Sunday at this NHRA-sanctioned track in 1963. On October 10, 1965, Gary Dyer beat Jim Thornton's A/FX Dodge Ramcharger in a match race, and in the process, set an unofficial world's ET record of 8.70 seconds.

 
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CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage of Ubly Dragway in 1960s, 3 minutes, music only/no sound

US 131 Dragway (Martin)

  • Years of Operation: 1962-present
 
The first drag race was held on this track on Sunday, June 24, 1962. Built solely for drag racing, the track was three-fourths of a mile long, with two single-lane asphalt strips, and electronic timing equipment. Races were held weekly on Sunday. Trophies were awarded to 32 class winners.

 
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June 24, 1962
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CLICK HERE to see video footage of 1973 Popular Hot Rodding meet at US 131 Dragway, 10:18 minutes, no sound
CLICK HERE to see 8mm video footage taken by Marv McNett at US 131 Dragway in 1962-63, 16 minutes, music only/no sound