A community bound by burnt rubber, track resin and pure passion comes to the Gainesville Raceway’s open drag racing nights for a safe place to rev their engines.
The Gainesville Raceway is best known for hosting the Amalie Motor Oil National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Gatornationals, one of the nation’s largest drag racing competitions. But even on the slower weekends, the track located off County Road 225 hosts hundreds of amateur racers to challenge their machines at its Midnight Madness and Test ’n’ Tune Nights.
On these nights, people can show up in anything from the everyday Camry to the tricked-out muscle car, as long as they meet some basic safety standards, track manager Mike Yurick said. The raceway hosts these open racing nights to provide racers with a safe environment, emergency medical services and track walls so that they can enjoy their hobby safely as opposed to illegally on the streets.
“Most of the people who come out and race are just there to practice their hobby,” Yurick said. “Some people golf, some people fish, some people hunt, but the people that come out here with their race cars − that’s their hobby.”
The Gainesville Raceway opened in 1969 and is owned by the NHRA. Yurick said the raceway offers open racing to provide a place for the racing community to safely interact.
“It’s a lot safer out here,” said Mark Brandon, owner of an orange 2017 Dodge Challenger 392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker.
When Brandon was in high school in the 1980s, he did some street racing on abandoned airstrips because there wasn’t anywhere safe to go. He recalled a time back in Jacksonville when a driver lost control of his car while racing and killed a 12-year-old boy.
“Taking these things out on the street is not a wise thing to do, it’s really not,” Brandon said. “It’s illegal for a reason.”
Brandon comes from Jacksonville to race on open track nights, and he said that they are a great opportunity to “get crazy legally.”
Chris Mayer, a racer from Homosassa, Florida, likes that the raceway provides him with a safe place to practice his lifelong hobby. Mayer has been racing since high school, and he still races his high school ride: a bright yellow 1990 Ford Mustang Turbo. He’s been coming to the raceway since 2000.
“I used to race in St. Pete all the time where they did street racing, and it was so dangerous,” Mayer said.
He remembers when hundreds of people would line the sides of the street and cars would race side-by-side.
“If you would have spun out a little bit you would have killed 20 people,” Mayer said.
Yurick said that he heard of recent accidents within the last six months where illegal racing lead to deaths. He wants to make sure the racing community knows about the open racing nights so that unfortunate accidents like that can be avoided.
On these open track nights, racers pay $25 to participate on the drag strip, and anyone can watch for $10, according to Yurick.