NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The name game

01 Jun 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Quite a few of you applauded my tongue-in-cheek strikethrough "mistake" in referring to the annual event in Englishtown as the Summernationals, which, of course, now is the name of the recently completed event in Topeka. I'd never make such a mistake purposefully, but it opens the door to today's column, in which I'll try to follow the twisting and turning evolution of several eternally entwined events: the Supernationals, Summernationals, and Springnationals.

Attacking this multiheaded history lesson is like going after a hydra … you have to choose where to start, so I guess I’ll do the easiest thing and start at the beginning.

The first Summernationals was held in York, Pa., in 1970.

The first Summernationals was held in 1970, but its debut was not at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park --hereinafter known as OBTRP, which, in fact, originally was known as Madison Township Raceway Park, hereinafter known as MTRP, neither of which is in Englishtown --  but rather at York U.S. 30 in York, Pa. The event moved to its current home the following year and has been there ever since.

OK, stick with me because here's where the story begins coiling around itself. Actually, the Summernationals was not MTRP's first event at all – it hosted the NHRA Springnationals in 1968 after it moved from Bristol and before it moved to Dallas and then to Columbus and then to Houston, where at one time an event called the Supernationals was held in the same year that OBTRP held an event of the same name.

Confused yet? Good.

Looping back, MTRP became OBTRP simply because the town changed its name. According to track owner David Napp (an Insider follower!), in 1975, the town's governing body opted for a more quaint (read: developer friendly) name during the suburbs-building boom, so because Madison Township no longer existed, the track had to change its name to simply Raceway Park and became, the best that I could tell, OBTRP in 1986. And although we refer to the East Coast acceleration shrine as "Englishtown," no part of the track resides in Englishtown, but if you stick your big toe onto Pension Road just outside the east gate, you will be in Englishtown. The track's property line is on the border between the towns of Old Bridge Township and Englishtown, which also is the county line between Middlesex and Monmouth counties. However, because the track is about as geographically distant from the Madison/Old Bridge post office as possible, the track was assigned an Englishtown mailing address, hence the confusion.

OK, so if you’re following this, MTRP had the Springnationals for one year – 1968 – then had to wait until 1971 to get back on to the national event calendar with the Summernationals. All was well and good (and hot and humid) in New Jersey from 1971 until 1993, when the event was moved from sweltering July to May, leapfrogging ahead of the Columbus-based Springnationals. Not willing to face the wrath of Mother Nature for putting her seasons out of order, the event became the Mopar Parts Nationals and stayed that way until 2000, when Matco took over sponsorship of the event. At that point, it became the Matco Spring SuperNationals.

Interestingly enough, by that time, the Springnationals name was on the shelf after Pontiac bought title-rights sponsorship to the Columbus event (which, of course, is not in Columbus but rather Hebron), but even though there wouldn’t have any longer been a summer-before-spring climactic conundrum, summer doesn’t begin until June 21, so the New Jersey race couldn’t have it back.

The Supernationals merged with the World Finals in 1974.

The race became the Spring SuperNationals (capital N, more on that later) because Matco also was the sponsor of another Supernationals, in Houston that same year, but that race was not called the Matco Fall SuperNationals (though the venerable Fallnats name would return soon enough at another venue).


The Supernationals, of course, also was a retread in that it initially had been attached to the performance-laced event held at year's end at Ontario Motor Speedway in California from 1970 through 1973 before it merged with the World Finals in 1974 after the Finals moved from Amarillo, Texas, after stops in Dallas (during which time it hosted the Springnationals and Finals, 1969-70) and Tulsa, Okla.

OK, so where was I?

Oh yeah. The Supernationals name lay dormant from 1974 until 1988, when it was resurrected and attached to the new event in Houston, which initially was held in the fall but moved to the spring the next year. All was well and good (and all Texany) in Houston until Slick 50, a new player on the scene with its sponsorship of the Slick 50 300-mph Club, bought title rights to the event and renamed it the Slick 50 Nationals and sent the Supernationals back into mothballs.

When NHRA added a second event to the calendar in Houston and Dallas in 1997, the Supernationals came out of hibernation for the fall event in Houston. The dual-Supernationals issue became moot the following year when the second Texas events (spring in Dallas, fall in Houston) were dropped from the schedule, and the SuperNationals name has remained on the New Jersey event since. To further muddy the issue, the new event logo was designed with a capital N in the middle, and we began referring in print to the event as the SuperNationals, which may have been done to separate it from the original Supernationals. Even though the current logo is in all capital letters, we're still calling it the SuperNationals.

Got it?

In the meantime, the Summernationals name returned to the docket in 2002, now attached to the event in Topeka and changed to two words: Summer Nationals. The following year, Houston gobbled up the Springnationals name (also logo-modified to be Spring Nationals) to return the NHRA calendar to its four-season complement because, starting in 1999, that fall Dallas date had incorporated the Fallnationals into its event name, giving that seasonal name its third home following its 1975-80 run in Seattle and 1985-89 reign in Phoenix. In 2009-10, our fine friends at O'Reilly Auto Parts sponsored all four seasonal events -- the Winternationals, Spring Nationals, Summer Nationals, and Fall Nationals – but now sponsor just the Winters and Springs of those four events.

OK, so now I'm sure you're asking yourself, "Self, if Topeka can have the Summer Nationals in May, why can’t Englishtown have it back now that their event is in June?" Short answer: I don't know. I do know that the track would love to have it back, but, then again, Heartland Park Topeka has been building on the equity of that name with its regional fans for nearly a decade, so it hardly seems fair to take it away. Maybe we have the Midwest Summer Nationals and the Eastern Summernationals?

I know I'm confused (which is a bad thing when you're supposed to jump on an airplane the following day), but I'm looking forward to my trip to the Garden State. I have so many fond memories of the track, especially in the 1980s when it was (out of necessity more than anything, I’d guess) one of the few tracks on the tour with night qualifying.

You don’t have to be a super historian to be able to dash off a long list of amazing things that have happened at the track throughout the years, and I'm SuperCertain that this year will be no exception. We'll have our Interactive live coverage going there as well as our popular new photo blog to keep everyone up to speed, so drop by and see us.

I'll be back here sometime next week with a new column, but it might not be until midweek depending on travel, deadlines, etc. Thanks for following along.