While this is the first year GED will host IHRA-sanctioned racing, the raceway has a storied history in drag racing and is known throughout the Midwest. According to DragStripList.com, the track first hosted races in the 1960s under the auspices of the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA), and ran continuously until 2014. During those 50 years of operation, Evansville racing fans witnessed great runs from John Ramsey, known as the “Super Stock King of Evansville,” and the famed “First Lady of Drag Racing” Shirley Muldowney.
Kevin Baesel took over the property in 2015, and is mindful of the track’s history with local racing fans. However, he also understands the differences between the heyday of the 1970s and the current resurgence of drag racing.
“When I first heard the track was reopening, I spoke with the two older gentlemen trying to restore it,” he said. “They wanted to run things like the 1970s, with the old rules. I told them that wouldn’t work because today’s racing is more competitive. Technology makes it so.”
After discussions with the men stalled, Baesel decided to buy the track outright and, in his words, “run it the way I wanted to run it.” The track and facilities had fallen into disrepair and a major overhaul was needed, but physical updates weren’t the only things on Baesel’s list of necessary changes.
“I reached out to friends and other racers about what races to run and what league to go with,” he said. “We also traveled south during the winter to watch races. We went to a lot of tracks to see what they were doing that worked, and what they were doing that maybe didn’t work.”
Baesel also received help from Jason Lancaster, whom he calls a trusted advisor. Lancaster, who revitalized the formerly-dormant Outlaw Street Car Association, shares many of Baesel’s ideas on how to make drag racing successful in the 21st century. He helped Baesel complete his overhaul of the track, which includes a brand-new track surface with LED lighting, new scoreboards and timing system, and new facility buildings.
Baesel is looking forward to bringing a variety of competitors to Greater Evansville Dragway for IHRA racing. He’s already gotten positive feedback from racers (“People have told us they’ve run the same times on our track that they run at Indy or Gateway [St. Louis], and that’s impressive,” he said), but says they’re still on a “learning curve.” Still, he and Lancaster are working to build a program that attracts drivers from around the region and the country.
“Every single event this year, our car count has grown. We had bracket racers come out in 115-degree heat index days to race. There’s no higher compliment,” he said. “IHRA has helped us do that, because they can help us market nationally without spending a whole bunch of money.”
Article by: Chris Pennant