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Wed, 27 Jun 2018, 18:00 PM

Historic Wilkesboro Dragway Boasts Strong Racing History
Courtesy of IHRA Communications

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.- In the foothills of North Carolina there sits two famous racing landmarks. One is the North Wilkesboro Speedway, a track where NASCAR legends were born. However, just a short 15-mile drive down U.S. 421 sits North Carolina's longest running dragstrip, Wilkesboro Dragway, the site of the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Summit Sportsman Spectacular June 29-July 1.

The race track, built by Angus Ellis along with his sons Lester, J.C., Bill, Gwyn and his brother-in-law Sam Eller, opened the track in 1955 as a quarter-mile dirt dragstrip with no return road. It made races drag on as cars would have to turn around at the top-end and travel back up the track to the pit area.

In 1960, that would change with the track being paved and a return road added for quicker races.

In 1968, Bill Ellis took sole ownership of the drag strip and changed the name to North Wilkesboro Dragway. While Ellis only ran the track part-time that year due to his commitments with Bobby Allison in NASCAR and Jerry Grant at the Indianapolis 500, it led to 1969 being the first full season for the track with Jet Car Shows, Funny Car Match Races, and Top Fuel Shows.

As a driver, Ellis was highly successful in drag racing. From 1957 to 1969, he drove five different cars and amassed over 120 wins.

Wilkesboro Dragway was the home of some of the most famous Pro Stock racers in the country. Drivers such as the iconic Roy Hill, Stuart McDade, Bruce Walker, and Don Carlton amongst a few all raced at the facility during their careers.

In 1973, an innovation occurred when Ellis installed wheels on guard rails so he could convert the dragstrip into an oval track for mini-stocks races. The start/finish line for the was placed at the starting line for the dragstrip. Cars would generally race to half-track, turn left, and then head back around the timing tower to complete a full lap. The series would be picked up by NASCAR and called the "Baby Grand Division."

For his hard work and determination, Bill Ellis was inducted into the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2016 and was the recipient of the Pioneer Award.

"It is amazing to see the track become what it is today," Wilkesboro Dragway Public Relations Manager Jeffrey Ellis said. "We have a dedicated group of racers who support the facility and with the IHRA Summit Sportsman Spectacular it allows even more history to be made at this great track."

Fast forward to today and co-owners Phil and Pat Halbedel, who reside in Boone, N.C., bought track from Danny Dunn in 2014 and plan to continue the legacy of the track. In 2016, the two got married on the starting line moments before they had to call cars to the staging lanes.

The track's motto is "Come Play in Our Backyard," in which Phil and Pat encourage racers and fans to enjoy weekends every time the gates open.

Fans can attend the IHRA Summit Sportsman Spectacular at Wilkesboro Dragway, June 29-July 1. Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children ages 6-12 for the weekend.

For more information about the Summit Sportsman Spectacular click here.

For more information about Wilkesboro Dragway click here.

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