Raceway Park photos by Hemmings staff.
In July 1965, the Napp family opened Raceway Park as a drag strip on the site of a former cattle ranch in central New Jersey. In the five-plus decades since, the Old Bridge institution – with an Englishtown address – has seen both triumph and tragedy, playing host to NHRA national events since 1968. On January 17, the legendary track announced that it would no longer be hosting drag racing events, forcing the NHRA to relocate the already-scheduled 2018 Summernationals.
In a press release hosted on the track’s website, the Napp family described the closure as “a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” adding, “…Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter-mile or eighth-mile drag racing events effective immediately.” Other portions of the facility, including three motocross tracks, a 1.35-mile road course, a go-kart track, and an autocross track, will remain open. Old Bridge Airport, adjacent to the track and operated by Raceway Park, will remain in operation as well.
Events unrelated to drag racing, such as swap meets; car shows; concerts; motocross practice and racing; drifting; karting; and road course activities will continue as scheduled throughout 2018. The press release clarified that the “stadium” portion of the track, including the VIP tower and grandstands, will remain open, and that the Napp family “looks forward to continuing to provide the best outdoor events in this new era of Raceway Park.”
Thanks to an elevation just 86 feet above sea level, Raceway Park delivered spectacular and fast racing over the years, and the NHRA Pro Stock speed record of 215.55 MPH was set by Erica Enders-Stevens at the track in May 2014. In 2015, Antron Brown set a track record with a 3.725-second Top Fuel pass at 319.52 MPH (at the new 1,000-foot distance), and in 2014, Cruz Pedragon set a Funny Car track record with a 3.959-second pass at 310.48 MPH, also at 1,000 feet.
The facility has witnessed its share of heartbreak as well. In 2008, Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed at the track when his engine exploded during a run, damaging his parachutes. Unable to slow the car, Kalitta died of blunt force trauma when his car struck a piece of heavy equipment in use as a temporary camera rig. In response, the NHRA reduced the race distance for Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters from 1,320 feet to 1,000 feet, a change that was intended to be temporary but remains in effect today. In 2010, Alcohol Funny Car driver Neal Parker also died in a crash at Raceway Park, after his parachute failed to deploy following a run.
It isn’t clear exactly how the former drag strip will be repurposed. Bangshift, which broke news of the track’s closure overnight, reports that the paved area has been leased for vehicle storage, which seems to be supported by Jalopnik’s statement that Insurance Auto Auctions (IAA) is the new lessee. Others report that online vehicle auction company Copart has taken over the space, which seems less likely given the existing relationship between Raceway Park and IAA.
It isn’t clear if noise-related lawsuits from the track’s neighbors contributed to the decision, but Raceway Park has long been the target of such litigation, despite its construction and operation predating any housing developments in the area. Track offices were shuttered on Wednesday by the winter storm plaguing the East Coast, so officials were unavailable for comment.