Contributed by Heather McGee, Alaska Raceway
Alaska Raceway Park roared to life on Labor Day of 1964 as Polar Dragway.
The historic venue in Palmer, Alaska embarks on a new era on Saturday. Racing will officially commence on the recently completed oval track as NASCAR comes to Alaska.
The visual spectacle of racing beneath Pioneer Peak and in view of the Knik Glacier is unique for racers and fans alike, and the track with its glorious view in multiple directions is recognized by race fans worldwide.
Back in 1964, Governor Bill Egan cut the ribbon and thousands of fans cheered on the first 40 cars to drag race down the track. The only International Hot Rod Association sanctioned track in Alaska. ARP is a family business, run since 1998 by Earl and Karen Lackey. The track is co-owned with their daughter, Michelle Lackey Maynor, who serves as Track Manager and Race Director.
Alaska joins Virginia's Dominion Raceway, Wisconsin's Spring Lake Speedway, and Eastboud Speedway in Canada's Newfouland and Labrador, as new tracks in 2016 under the NASCAR Whelen All-AMerican Series banner.
It's been a long road for Alaska, with plenty of labor and love put into making oval track racing at the facility a reality.
Prior to the most recent expansion, Top End, Inc. and the Lackeys have funded major drag strip improvements and renovations since the 1990s: Environmental cleanup, new entrances, bleachers, sound systems, building roofs, remodeling of the main building, gift shop, firefighting and track-cleaning equipment, staging area paving, pit paving, computerized timing system, new track bed and surface with a 300-foot heated concrete launch pad, and purchase of surrounding 182 acres to make the park permanent and add parking – in the process rejuvenating what was a flagging passion to a sport that is now growing yearly.
In 2016, the most major improvement of all is now a reality: a .333-mile asphalt oval, becoming a NASCAR Home Track in February 2016 in the Whelen All-American Series. This expansion created a bona fide motorsports complex; the only of its kind in Alaska and remarkable for a state with a population of less than 750,000.
The new track expands racing opportunities for youth and adults in Alaska, and racers with nowhere else to race after a local grandfathered oval closed in 2012 are ecstatic to once again have a racing venue they are calling "amazing!". They love how smooth and fast it is proving to be. There is plenty of room to maneuver the racecar. It’s a perfectly sized track for community weekly series racing, to accommodate all sorts of cars.
The track is constructed on the site of a dirt oval on ARP property and is below ground level, so spectators won’t miss a second of the action. Following the Tesoro Inaugural Oval Debut on Saturday, there will be an additional nine oval race days in the 2016 season throughout the summer.
With construction activities limited in the winter due to frozen ground and load limits on local roads, active construction began in 2014 and the project took 18 months. In fact, last-minute finishing touches are being worked on, right up until the debut race on June 4.
The Lackeys have put everything on the line for this exciting expansion, and construction has been a family and racing community effort. Lackey sons, John and Jim, have pitched in during the construction process, and Pete, the facility manager, has been an indispensable and tireless coordinator and builder of the track’s necessary elements, such as: The tower, grandstand, spotter’s deck, gift shop, concessions building, and tech station. The scoreboard and leaderboard came from Daktronics and were installed by DG Signs. Facility EMT John Akers worked under Pete’s guidance from November 2015, when the bleachers arrived from Florida on three semi-trailers.
Technology includes a state-of-the-art LED electronic timing system, the transponders to activate the timing system, and the raceceiver system which the drivers will be able to hear race director instructions. A new Matanuska Telephone Association fiber optic internet and phone feed helps the facility upgrade to incorporate technologies previously unavailable to the drag strip due to old electrical infrastructure and slow internet service. Pete works with our I.T. volunteer, Cory Ricks, and uses a Xirrus WiFi Inspector software to plan track-wide frequencies for UHF radios, point-of-sale devices, Daktronics equipment on the scoreboard, wireless microphones, wi-fi access points, and spectator access to MyLaps SpeedHive.
Our recent promotions by press release and on social media have gained the attention of southcentral Alaska TV stations and newspapers, statewide racers and race fans who knew us only for drags, as well as caught the imagination of country-wide NASCAR followers on Twitter and Facebook. In Dana Pruhs’s words, “Alaska Raceway Park is a venue worthy of the greatest state in the Union!”
In-kind donors and sponsors include Tesoro Refining and Marketing, Pruhs Construction, Diversified Tire, Matanuska Telephone Association, Soper's Concrete, Valley Block and Concrete, Carson Construction, Cruz Construction, Yukon Equipment, National Response Corporation, Carlisle Transportation, CMI Equipment, Airport Equipment Rental, E-Terra, Acutek Geomatics, New Horizons Telecom, J.D. Steel Co., Emerald Fuels, and AAA Fence.