Drag Illustrated Issue 178, September / October 2022 - Page 70

D . I . COLUMNIST

On the Road with Van Abernethy

When Wabash Valley Dragway opened in 1972 , the track ’ s location wasn ’ t exactly what you ’ d consider “ in the middle of town ,” but there ’ s sure been a lot of expansion here in Terre Haute , Indiana , over the last half-century . In fact , it would be difficult to find a dragstrip with more neighboring amenities than Wabash Valley .

Sometimes , just for kicks , racers will hop on their golf carts between rounds and ride them next door to Chick-Fil-A , where they ’ ll actually pull up to the drive-thru speaker , place an order , and then drive around to the window and grab their food and return to the track without ever getting off the golf cart !
For the more casual indoor dining experience , there ’ s also a Golden Corral , likewise accessible by way of a 30-second golf cart ride . There ’ s also a drug store , an Ollie ’ s Bargain Outlet , and a host of other shopping opportunities that are literally seconds away from Wabash Valley Dragway .
When the track was constructed 50 years ago , the only other attraction around here was the Vigo County Fairgrounds , which actually dates back to 1940 and also owns the property of the dragstrip . It should come as no surprise that there ’ s been plenty of changes to this NHRA-sanctioned eighthmiler since it opened , including three name changes . It originally opened as Action Dragway , later called Crossroads Dragway , and finally , Wabash Valley Dragway .
The track has been shut down a few times during the 1980s and came awfully close again in 2020
when Randy and Tammy Peterson retired from managing the facility after a successful 12-year run . The track ’ s future was in question for several months before Troy Mann , Jay Eversole , and Doug Smith stepped in to take over managing the track . The trio is 1.5 years into their lease , and all three are drag racers ... which has its pros and cons .
These guys definitely possess the special skill sets needed to operate a track , especially from a racer ’ s point of view ... and therein lies the problem . All three men long to race but
rarely get to since they ’ ve got their hands full operating the track week in and week out . “ It takes all three of us !” says Mann , who assumes the role of race director . “ When we took over in 2020 , there were actually four of us , but one decided he wanted to race more , so he moved on .”
Mann grew up in this area and shared with me a lot of the track ’ s
history . One year after it opened , NHRA held an eighth-mile national event here , in which Bob Glidden won Pro Stock with a time of 5.76 at 122 mph . Mann has vintage photo albums with pics of everybody from Don Garlits to Japanese nitro racer Kenji Okazaki , as a wide array of personalities have come this way over the last 50 years . “ A lot of testing from the Top Fuel guys was done here back in the 1970s ,” says Mann .
Even though Wabash Valley has a relatively short shutdown , there ’ s been some monster passes down
this track . Al Hoffman held the track record for decades with a 3.85 elapsed time , and amazingly , his long-standing record was broken exactly one week after I visited , when Fuel Altered racer Neal Hinman scorched the eighth mile with a 3.78 at 193 mph .
When it comes to their weekly program here at Wabash Valley ,
Kenny James is something of a living legend around these parts . Said to be the winningest racer in Terre Haute , James is still going strong at age 82 ! “ Well , I ’ m actually down to racing in just one class ,” he chuckles .
As recently as last year , he was still competing in multiple classes . “ I was here in 1972 when the track first opened , driving a 1962 Super Stock Chevy ,” he smiles . “ That first year was pretty tough ; I think it rained out the first eight or nine races !”
James has probably won 10 track championships over the years and has more event wins than he could possibly call to memory . “ Every year I tell ‘ em I ’ m not gonna race anymore , but I end up doing it anyway !” he laughs . The allure of drag racing is something he can ’ t seem to walk away from , and what a great little track he has to continue pursuing his endeavors .
The grassy pit area , along with the track itself , totals 340 sprawling acres , with an astounding 105 pit spots with electrical hookups . Sometimes they ’ ll book a live band for some of their larger events . When I rolled into town in late July , they were having an awesome three-day race called Lucky 7 ’ s .
Pictured is Randy Protz , who ’ s finding some good bite on the starting line in this month ’ s column photo . Protz had success at this meet , wheeling his great-looking 1974 Chevy Vega wagon to the win in the opening eliminator on Friday night .
Wabash Valley Dragway is the 160th different dragstrip I ’ ve visited as I continue my travels across America , seeking out these historic gems that are etched in drag racing history . DI
70 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 178