The thunder of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will echo throughout the Phoenix area once again this year when the NHRA’s annual “duel in the desert,” the 30th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals will take place Feb. 21-23 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, formerly known as Firebird Int’l Raceway.
Racers and race fans attending the event, the second on the 24-race 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Series schedule, will be in for a treat because the new management group has poured a lot of effort into the multi-use venue. Tickets for the event can be purchased at NHRAtix.com or by calling 800-884-NHRA (6472).
New concrete has been laid to replace portions of the all-important 700-foot launch pad and new CompuLink timing, and public-address systems have been installed. New scoreboards also will be installed.
Paul Clayton, managing partner for Copper Train, the management company hired by the land owners, the Gila River Indian Community, and Track President Dick Hahne have been working closely with Sun Valley Marina Corporation, subcommittee of the tribe, which oversees usage of the land to ensure a top-quality experience for race fans who visit the facility.
“We’re doing everything we can to make the customers happy,” said Clayton. “We’re trying to make this a special event. I want the first-time fan experience to be incredible.”
The group has put veteran drag racer and former Division 5 dragstrip operator/owner Bill Schneider, who has been involved in the sport since 1956, in charge of the dragstrip operation as dragstrip events manager and also hired another Division 5 racetrack veteran Rod Wolter, who also helped build Gateway Motorsports Park and took part in the remodeling of Brainerd Int’l Raceway, to assist and advise.
According to Schneider, the management group surveyed its local racers for opinions about which items most needed to be addressed and then leapt into action. The first order of business was the racing surface itself, where the final 560 feet of the 704-foot-long concrete launch pad was replaced. The first 160-plus feet recently had been replaced, but the rest was in need of repair. Baker Construction, which has done the concrete work for a number of NHRA national events, including the all-concrete zMax Dragway, did the pouring of eight inches of rebar-reinforced concrete that meets all NHRA specifications. The group also paid special attention to the transition area and the asphalt portion to make it as smooth as possible.
“From an old drag racer’s standpoint, it makes me want to bend over and kiss it,” said Schneider. “It is absolutely beautiful. I’m pleased and impressed with how quickly and well things have fallen into place.”
News of the improvements to the track has already filtered down through the racing ranks. Several Pro Stock teams have booked the dragstrip for testing the first week of February and, even though Pro Stock Motorcycles do not compete at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, several bike teams have become intrigued enough with the new surface and have asked to test as well.
Phoenix-based Atlas Sound has also installed a new PA system that features 32 speakers on each side of the track, in addition to the pit areas and other areas of the facility.
The track’s grand opening in set for Jan. 24 for the kickoff of the track’s new 5 & Diner-sponsored Friday Night Drags, with a Summit Jr. Dragster race the following day, and the track will run every weekend for the rest of the year, weather permitting.
The NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series will compete at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park Sept. 26-28. Other major events already planned include a “Night of Fire-type” event March 29 with Robosauarus, monster trucks, and jet cars. The track will also be a featured part of the popular Arizona Bike Week, with the Phoenix Bike Fest coming to the track April 4, supplemented by a nitro Harley exhibition event.
In addition to its famous dragstrip that first opened in 1984, the 450-acre facility also includes the world famous dragboat lake, an off-road course, the Bob Bondurant driving school, and more.