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The Dragtime News - Final Thoughts About Old Bridge Township Raceway Park

 
Final Thoughts About Old Bridge Township Raceway Park
This past week, on Wednesday, January 17, 2018, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown NJ announced that it was ceasing all drag racing activities effective immediately. The track had entered into a multi-year lease agreement with Copart, the auto auction company, to store its vehicles on Raceway Park property. The track was not sold; other motorsports activities such as drifting and motocross will continue at the facility, but drag racing was done. No NHRA Summernationals, no NHRA Divisional race, no bracket racing.

This announcement was met with anger, disappointment, sadness and bewilderment by the track’s racers and fans. “How could the track owners do this?” was a common question. The current owners – the third generation of Napps who took over the operations with the passing of their fathers, brothers Vinny Jr. and Richard, are being labeled as greedy sell-outs who never cared about drag racing, and that their fathers must be spinning in their graves. As a racer who called Raceway Park his home track and spent countless days at the facility both racing and covering events for The Dragtime News, when I learned the news I said that many of us felt a sense of betrayal by the Napps.

Now that a few days have passed since the announcement, I wanted to put my thoughts out there for your consideration and share some of my direct, personal experiences with the track. Perhaps this will help put the situation into perspective, maybe ease the pain just a little.

I can’t imagine how many battles the Napps had with complaining neighbors and the associated constant legal battles that came with them. Then there’s skyrocketing insurance costs, a huge tax burden and a sport that is dependent on the weather. The current Napp generation endured these battles for nearly twenty years. That had to be exhausting; to say they didn’t care about our sport I think is not true. In the midst of it, I’m sure it didn’t help when they’d see all of the negativity the track would receive on the Internet. The track had many racers who loved and supported it loyally, but the positive posts from them on the Internet were routinely overshadowed by those who would bash the track publicly. “Etown sucks!” “The payout sucks!” “I’ll never race there again, screw that place!” were some of the sentiments that would be greeting the Napps on a Monday morning as they went online. I don’t know if this was a tipping point for them or not, but it couldn’t help matters. If they were riding the fence at all about the future of the track, this could have put them over the edge. Who knows, but perhaps moving forward, racers with a complaint will try to take it to their track privately instead of publicly spreading this sort of damaging toxic negativity.

Despite all of this, they gave us racers a great facility. The track was glass-smooth (at least for me at 125 mph, anyway). Although the track might not have had the "bracket-racer's track" status the way Atco Dragway once did or Numidia Dragway currently does, they started re-developing their bracket racing program with the input of track manager John Hedenburg. The facility was always clean and neat, the track prep was never an issue (again, at least for me) and the staff and crew were great; very helpful and friendly. Etown was home and it was family.

The thing is, it is the Napp’s track and they have the right to do with it as they please. The deal with which they were evidently presented was so big that they would have been fools to turn it down, and quite frankly no one in their right mind would have turned it down. Racers, the income from the bracket racing was clearly not cutting it. I do not know this from the Napps; I know this by standing in the lanes and doing a rough car count, then estimating how much entry money came in the gate, then ballparking the amount paid out to the staff, and then racer payouts. We just could not compete with the deal, plain and simple. By doing this deal they are able to keep ownership of the facility and continue to make money from the drifting and motocross events, while guaranteeing non-weather-dependent income from the drag strip-portion of the track. It is a win-win for the Napps and as tough as this is to say, it makes perfect sense for them to do. I’m sure as disappointed as Vinny, Jr. and Richard would be if they knew, I think their disappointment would not be from what their children had done but rather what’s happened to our sport. After all, parents only want their kids to do well, to be happy and to have security, and the current generation has all but ensured those things for themselves and for their families. Yet despite all of this I will wager any amount that it was still not an easy decision.

With all of that being said, I still do feel that sense of betrayal, but it is not personally directed at the Napps. Part of it comes from the thought that perhaps this could have been handled a little differently, but for all anyone knows they might have signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevented them from speaking about it all until it was a done deal. It was also hurtful to know that it was only the drag racing that was being eliminated, but it probably had to be that way because the Copart cars need to be stored on paved surfaces.

I have always liked the Napps, and I still do. If I were to run into any of them tomorrow, I would extend a handshake and would thank them:

• For all of the times I made a pass down one of the most historic dragstrips ever, thank you.

• For giving me the opportunity to race against some of the best bracket racers around, thank you.

• For the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made at your track, thank you.

• For all of the times you would run the jet-dryer truck (a huge expense) on our regular bracket days just to try to finish one of our races after a rain delay, thank you.

• For the times you let me store the Dragtime Dodge at your track when I had no other place to keep it, thank you.

• For the times that you would allow me into the track during the week to work on the car, thank you.

• For the hospitality and respect you showed to The Dragtime News, thank you.

I wish the Napps well with this deal. I hope maybe some day, some how, they will bring drag racing back to their track, but until then I will try to go to some of their other events (drifting is actually very cool), as a way to show my appreciation and to let them know that there are no hard feelings. Long live Etown.



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