The names sound like they’re straight out of a Sci-Fi flick: War on Wheels III, Last Man Standing, and Jet Wars. Fact is, these are names of drag races at Maryland International Raceway (MDIR), located in Budds Creek, Maryland.
Home to ¼ mile drag races, MDIR boasts competitive racing events in a family-friendly setting just 45 minutes from Old Town Alexandria, Virginia; downtown Washington, D.C.; and Annapolis, Maryland.
If you’re a regular reader of the goodies here on Roadfly.com, you know we’ve brought you racing coverage from some of the finest series in the world: NASCAR, Formula 1, Indy Racing League, SCCA, LeMans and Global Rallycross to name a few. For years, I’d heard the commercials on local DC area media touting races at MDIR. And then I heard one on Jet Wars.
“Charlie (Roadfly CEO), I’d like to cover drag races at MDIR this weekend. They have 300 mph, jet powered Funny Cars and Rail Dragsters running there,” I queried. “Short notice but do your thing. Sounds like fun!,” Charlie countered.
Three letters (FUN) don’t even begin to describe the experience my photographic assistant Anastasia Roshal and I had that recent Saturday at MDIR.
First, a bit of history about MDIR. Maryland International Raceway was first built in 1966, by Joe LaRoque. The first opening event in July, 1966, was called the NASCAR Top Fuel Championships. The raceway’s name at that time was St. Mary’s Drag-O-Way. Joe retained ownership of the raceway for just a little over a year.
In 1967, Bill Cairns (a car dealership owner) bought the facility. He renamed the track to Budds Creek Raceway, and operation remained under his control until 1972. The track was then purchased by Tod Mack and Larry Clayton. The name was changed to the present Maryland International Raceway.
Ownership changed hands yet again to Royce and Linda Miller. Leased by Miller in late 1989, the name was unchanged. Royce was actually the MDIR Super Pro Track Champion in 1984 too. The track remained NHRA until 1991. Then in the opening of the 1992 season, MDIR took a new leap to the International Hot Rod Association. The lease agreement finally ended when Miller purchased the track in February, 1998.
Maryland International Raceway has gone through a number of facelifts – and there are currently plans for additional improvements underway. The track’s appearance has changed dramatically over the years, and a lot of work has been done to make it the excellent facility that offers a wonderful and friendly atmosphere while delivering intense and exciting drag racing!
We arrived at the track about 3 p.m. that Saturday, having looked at the race schedule for the day in advance of arrival. Now this is a racetrack so you are sitting out in the sun. Yes, you can bring umbrellas for shade, and coolers for refreshment. I like the fact that certain areas of the grandstands are alcohol free-showing once again that if you want a family friendly environment, MDIR delivers. Once we checked in with MDIR Director of Marketing and PR Rick Lindner, we were set to roam the multi-acre facility. Rick’s got racing in his blood and showed us drag racing newbies the “ropes” about ¼ mile affairs. There was bracket and index racing, and also just pure head-to-head competition. Rick also promised we could stand at the starting gate for the jet car competition. More on that later.
One of the nice surprises of the experience was to see so many lady racers and young kids in competition. The young ‘uns run in “Junior Dragsters” with small displacement motorcycle engines that propel the small racers to just under 100 mph or so. But don’t take these kids lightly!
Remember that Jimmy Johnson and Danica Patrick started in racing go carts. Consider the junior dragsters an equivalent to the carts. These cars cost about $25-$30,000 dollars and are as technologically complex as their big brothers. It’s fun to watch these young boy and girl racers!
After enjoying the Junior Dragsters, we saw (and heard!) big, rumblin’ V8 powered cars get it on. Drive your highly modified Mustang, Camaro or even your Honda Accord and Chevy Cobalt to the track, be sure to have the necessary safety gear like a full roll cage, proper racing harness and helmet, and see if your reaction time at the “Christmas Tree” start and horsepower can rachet you up a few wins. After you “burnout” to warm the tires, you’ll race often, provided you win, as you must face winners of different heats before you and your competition line up for all the marbles, and a nice check to offset racing’s expenses. Some drag cars are very elaborate, with more invested than some might pay for a modest home, and some are built for the love of the sport and the pride of being Crew Chief, Lead Mechanic and Race Driver all in one. Of course, there are different classes that race throughout the day, with Motorcycles, Funny Cars and Rail Dragsters being crowd favorites.
Speaking of Motorcycles, we encountered one bad-ass honey on a 2000 Suzuki Hayabusa waiting for her turn to show the guys a thing or two. Kelly Clontz started racing cars at 18 and bikes at 21. She met her husband Chris at MDIR, and later the evening, we witnessed her rooting her Dad on in a drag race. MDIR is a family affair!
Rick Lindner informed me that MDIR also gives back to the community. Kelly, for example, was part of the “Paint the Quarter Mile Pink” event held in July to raise money for breast cancer research. More than $10K was raised from that one event! MDIR also regularly honors and salutes our military and first responders. Way to go MDIR!
Between classes of races, MDIR attendees can freely explore the pit areas where the cars are prepped, enjoy interactive gaming, air conditioned restroom facilities with XM/Sirius Satellite Radio, buy some MDIR swag at track side vendors, and get your eat on at food concessions. My top tip for food? Pulled Pork with special sauce for just $6. Like KFC, it’s finger lickin’ good.
As the Sun on that beautiful Saturday evening started to set, it was time to catch up with Rick Lindner and prep for what was a sensational race experience. Like I said earlier, I’ve been to the Indy 500, the 12 hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of LeMans. Formula 1? BTDT. But of all these experiences, a new one at MDIR rose to my all-time greatest racetrack experience – Jet Car Racing.
Imagine you are in the Mediterranean Sea, aboard a Navy Aircraft Carrier about to launch a defensive strike against a U.S. adversary. There you are, on deck in the middle of the night as several thousand horsepower of jet powered fury launches from a deck the size of a football field. You feel the heat, and your body absorbs the tremors of earth-shaking fury as the F-15 catapults into the night sky.
Well, this “Top Gun” scenario I just laid out was pretty darn similar to what Anastasia and I experienced at MDIR.
Folks, when I say these are jet powered funny cars, I don’t mean that someone took a few 1-liter Coke bottles and put a mixture of baking soda and vinegar inside and strapped them to a go cart. These Funny Cars and Dragsters have real jet turbine engines aboard in single or twin configurations. Rick warned: “When the cars are staging, you may be startled at the pulsing and heat your body will feel. And since you are so tall (I’m nearly 7 feet tall), you may want to bend over when they start so you are not knocked off your feet (remember, Rick had promised us a start line experience between two jet racers!).
When the jet racers approach the starting line, they put on a show for the crowd. First, hi pressure plumes of what appears to be steam shoots 100 feet behind the cars. That stream then turns into the next blast of fire shooting rearwards. This almost appears to be a mating dance of superiority between two peacocks to see who has the biggest and brightest plume of feathers. As the cars get closer then inch their way into the starting blocks, the jets “pulse” off and on to move forward. The sensation rattles your body and vibrates your eardrums. Hearing protection for all MDIR races but the Juniors is a must as this is a loud sport!
Just before the “tree” hit green, I bent over for protection. The all hell broke loose and they were GONE. In the three seconds it took me to recover from the heat and noise, the cars were at the trip lights, ¼ mile and 326 mph away.
For the twin-jet engine cars and trucks, I sped to the safety of the press room to watch, while Anastasia the daredevil stayed on the track. I promised I would deliver her barbequed body back to her family, but have no fear, safety is the number one priority of the talented crew at MDIR. They’ve got dozens of policies and rules in effect to keep racers and attendees (and brave journalists) safe.
As the twin jet cars prepared to start, the whole press building rumbled and the windows shook. Again, in a flash it was over. The jet races are a MUST SEE at MDIR!
The names are iconic: Bunny Burkett and Ol’ Buzzard for example, and the names of the cars even more memorable like Alley Cat; Whooppee; Should’a, Could’a; Wood’a; and Willy Fast. All of it adds up to a great day at the track.
With a race test/track schedule that spans the first week of March to the last week of November, and with family friendly entry prices and concession costs, a day at MDIR is fun for the whole family.
Special Roadfly thanks go out to Rick Lindner, photographer Holloway Sanders, the Miller family and the great fans at MDIR! If you are in the DMV area on Labor Day Weekend 2015, check out Speed Unlimited Midnight Madness (9/4), ET Series (9/5) and Custom T’s East Coast Grudge Fest (9/6).
(For more on MDIR, visit www.mirdrag.com)