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RACING

New drag strip on Onawa’s old runway just about ready for takeoff

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New drag strip on Onawa’s old runway just about ready for takeoff

The complex in Onawa, a project Ron Conner is leading, will be sanctioned by the rival International Hot Rod Association.

In an era when race tracks seem to be closing their doors, it’s refreshing to hear about one that is opening them.

Last fall, I wrote about a group of investors who wanted to turn the abandoned airport runway in Onawa, Iowa, into a drag strip.

It has been a long wait, but things are moving fast. Through the sale of stock, use of tax increment financing and the help of many volunteers, the Onawa Racing and Events Complex is close to opening.

The man hired to run the project, Ron Conner, has been around drag racing a long time. He started when Heartland Park Topeka was built in 1989. He put the safety team together there while still a volunteer.

Conner later helped bring bracket racing to HPT. In 2000, Conner became a full-time employee of the National Hot Rod Association. He has done just about everything there is to do in drag racing.

“I’ve crisscrossed the country from New Hampshire to California and many places in between, putting about 37,000 miles a year driving a dually and pulling a 53-foot gooseneck trailer,” Conner said.

He returned to Topeka in 2016 as race director and spent last year working at the NHRA’s Bristol, Tennessee, facility.

The complex in Onawa will be sanctioned by the rival International Hot Rod Association. Weather permitting, the track will have a practice session Saturday and open June 8 and 9 featuring jet dragsters, wheel standers and lots of bracket racing. The season could extend into late October.

When I visited the facility, there were still projects to complete but things are coming together. The previous weekend, a group of volunteers mowed the grass and helped clean up.

Conner hoped to start getting rubber down on the track last week by dragging old racing tires that would lay down rubber, giving the track more grip. Initially it will be a 1⁄8 -mile drag strip. There is no return road in place yet, but it has been set up to handle 1,000 — the standard in national events — as well as quarter-mile action.

Lots of work remains in the pits. Some drivers are already planning to lay down concrete in their pit areas in return for guaranteed parking spots. The road into the facility still needs to be smoothed out, and the timing system was to be installed this week.

A banquet hall that can host parties, wedding receptions and just about any other get-together sits just behind the starting line and scoring tower. “We can have events going on in the banquet hall year-round,” Conner said.

Is Conner ready?

“You bet I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready to go from being a construction manager to the general manager of a race facility.

“I just want to give the competitors a good competitive track and everybody can have a lot of fun.”

To follow the progress of the facility, visit www.onawaracing.com.

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