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.
“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.”
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July 1: Air Force's Nic Ready hit a total of 55 home runs, including 21 in the final round, to edge Clemson's Logan Davidson in the College Home Run Derby.
June 28: Oregon State celebrates beating Arkansas 5-0 in Game 3 of the CWS championship series. The Beavers were down to their last out in Game 2 before a fielding blunder by the Razorbacks gave Oregon State a second life, which it took advantage of en route to the program's third CWS title.
June 18: John Olson, and Mary Olson, of Joslyn, Missouri, take cover under ponchos during a rain delay at the College World Series. Weather provided a huge problem in the 2018 CWS.
June 15: Cam'ron Jones checks out Omaha.com, or perhaps Snapchat, during the Huskers' Friday Night Lights camp.
June 9: Terence "Bud" Crawford celebrates his knockout victory over Jeff Horn to win the WBO welterweight title.
May 19: Fremont's Lucas Arps celebrates after winning the Class A 400-meter dash.
May 19: Lincoln Lutheran's Josie Puelz celebrates after clearing 12-2 in the Class C girls pole vault final.
May 17: Omaha Roncalli's Thomas Alitz cheers after scoring the winning run in the Class B state championship on a hit by Logan McGill with two outs in the seventh inning.
May 17: Omaha Creighton Prep's Eric Allbery, right, jumps on the dogpile as the Junior Jays celebrate their Class A state baseball title.
May 16: South Sioux City celebrates after defeating Elkhorn South in the Class B state soccer championship.
May 16: Kearney's Christian Dakan hoists the Class A state soccer trophy alongside his teammates.
May 14: Millard North celebrates its Class A state championship win against Omaha Marian by kissing the trophy.
May 14: Elkhorn celebrates its Class B championship win against Omaha Skutt.
May 9: Creighton's Will Robertson celebrates with Jack Strunc, left, after homering the fifth inning. The Jays beat UNO 10-6.
May 6: The Omaha Storm Chasers play below the newly dedicated Steve Pivovar Press Box at Werner Park.
April 21: Nebraska coach Scott Frost leads the Huskers during the Tunnel Walk on Saturday.
April 19: Awardee Dante Pettis and former Nebraska football player Johnny Rodgers, right, pictured during the Jet Award dinner.
April 19: Former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne attends the Jet Award dinner.
April 18: UNO's Malik Moore pitches against Nebraska. The Mavericks knocked off the Huskers for the first time since 1997.
April 11: Creighton's Will Robertson, left, and Thomas Luevano celebrate scoring on a triple by Jack Strunc.
April 11: Elkhorn South's Mo Gohr gains control of the ball in the Metro Conference tournament.
April 3: Scott Frost directs Husker football practice.
March 31: The boy campers pose for a photo at the Athletes' Training Center Futures Camp at Iowa West Field House.
March 27: Creighton defeats Nebraska 3-1 in the first matchup of the year.
March 25: Kansas' Malik Newman drives to the basket, drawing a blocking foul on Duke's Wendell Carter. The Jayhawks went on to defeat the Blue Devils in Omaha and advance to the Final Four.
March 17: Arizona State defeats Nebraska in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
March 17: Nebraska Wesleyan celebrates winning the NCAA Division III men's basketball championship.
March 17: Creighton defeats Iowa in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
March 17: Creighton's bench cheers as Michael Emodi hits a walk-off homer off Wichita State pitcher Chandler Sanburn in the Jays' home opener.
March 12: The Creighton women's basketball team celebrates making the NCAA tournament.
March 10: Wahoo celebrates winning the Class C-1 boys basketball title.
March 10: Nebraska City Lourdes' Quinten Vasa, center, holds up the trophy with his team.
March 9: Glenwood celebrates after winning its first boys basktball state title in school history.
March 3: Scotus' Maggie Feehan celebrates after winning the Class C-1 title.
March 3: Superior celebrates a Class C-2 championship win over Ravenna.
Feb. 25: Nebraska's Duby Okeke enters Pinnacle Bank Arena with his family at his side on senior night. The Huskers went on to defeat Penn State.
Nebraska's Duby Okeke enters Pinnacle Bank Arena with his family at his side on senior night.
Feb. 24: Creighton's Marcus Foster, left, and Davion Mintz celebrate Creighton's 89-83 overtime victory over Villanova.
Feb. 24: Omaha Creighton Prep's Colin LaFave competes in the 100 fly at the state swimming meet.
Feb. 24: Lincoln Southwest's Anna Heinrich, left, and Josie Ford celebrate their first and second-place finishes in the 50 free at the state swimming meet.
Feb. 17: Kearney’s Phillip Moomey is in the top 20 of his weight class in two national polls. Only a handful of underclassmen are ranked ahead of him.
Feb. 17: Omaha Burke's Jakason Burks does a backflip after defeating Millard South's Caleb Coyle during the 106-pound Class A final at the state wrestling championships.
Jan. 28: Omaha Lancers coach and General Manager David Wilkie talks with players during first-period action.
Jan. 26: UNO's Luke Nogard skates past the referee.
Jan. 16: Nebraska's Nicea Eliely gets excited during pregame introductions as the Huskers went on to beat Iowa.
Nebraska's James Palmer celebrates a home victory over Illinois with Isaiah Roby.
Jan. 9: Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, left, talks with former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne during the Outland Trophy banquet.
Jan. 4: Omaha Burke's Shereef Mitchell brings the ball up court in the Metro holiday tournament.
Jan. 1: In his final game with Central Florida, now-Nebraska coach Scott Frost raises the Peach Bowl title after defeating Auburn.