Drag Illustrated Issue 179, November / December 2022 - Page 64

D . I . COLUMNIST

On the Road with Van Abernethy

There ’ s just something about a nostalgia race and reunion that I love attending . Even when I was a kid I had a certain elevated appreciation for all things nostalgia , and now that I ’ m something of an antique myself , the allure of vintage cars has only grown stronger .

One such event that ’ s been on my radar for a while now is the Dover Drag Strip Nostalgia Drags , held yearly at New York ’ s Lebanon Valley Dragway . Event founder Dino Lawrence has been inviting me to come up for this race for probably seven or so years now , but every year I end up being on the wrong side of the country on the weekend the Dover reunion is taking place .
Finally , for the 2022 running held last September I cleared my calendar and told Dino that nothing was going to get in the way of me attending this event , so I happily made the trek to Lebanon Valley , which is roughly 12 hours north of my native North Carolina , and three hours north of New York City . There ’ s going to be an in-depth story about the history of this epic gathering in a future issue of Drag Illustrated , but for this issue , my trip to the Empire State made for the perfect content for my column , which of course , is largely centered around my travels across the country .
So , as I began to dig deep into New York ’ s dragstrip history , I must confess that I was quite astonished to find no less than 47 dragstrips on record that have operated in the
Empire State . Zoning permits and general expansion ( as well as a host of other factors ) haven ’ t been kind to drag racing in New York . If my research is correct , I was only able to find five remaining dragstrips still in operation , of which I ’ ve currently visited two .
It was 1994 when I attended my first New York drag race , back when I was working for photographer Bryan Epps and we drove up to Leicester , New York , for the IHRA Empire Nationals . It would be another
27 years before I returned to New York to once again visit Empire Dragway , this time for a Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod race in 2021 .
That brings us to last September when I finally got around to visiting my second New York track , Lebanon Valley Dragway . Built in 1963 , this scenic NHRA quarter-miler has stood the test of time and hosts some heavily-attended events yearly .
If you love hearing memories from people who grew up racing
and spectating at various tracks , I encourage anyone to visit a website called Dragstrip- List . com . They have a comprehensive list of dragstrips in the U . S . and Canada , and they also urge people to share their memories of these venues for others to read and enjoy .
As it relates to Lebanon Valley , I read comments from a variety of people who remember watching Shirley Muldowney race here during the infancy of her storied career . Others wrote about the six-car nitro
Funny Car shows they ’ d book in . One fan remembers the time “ Big Daddy ” Don Garlits showed up at Lebanon Valley towing a small box trailer with a Cadillac . I especially enjoyed the memories from Neil Cline , who used to race his big-block 1967 Corvette during the “ spectator races ” as he refers to them . He even shared pics of the car , along with hand-written time slips from 50 years ago ! “ It ’ s a thriving track yet today !” he concluded . His assessment
was spot on .
Obviously , the New York winters are brutal , but when the weather breaks , they try to get opened up in April with test and tune . A nostalgia series known as NODRAMA frequents Lebanon Valley for their points series , which begins in April , as well as the Division 1 National Open series later that month . May is jam-packed with NHRA Summit point races , as well as the Hemmings Muscle Car Show and Drag Race . The NHRA Lucas Oil series gathers in June for four days and packs the place out each year . The track even hosts some import racing in July , along with a huge schedule of other events . August features a two-day $ 10K Bracket Bash event , while September ushers in the aforementioned Dover Drag Strip Nostalgia Drags .
This month ’ s column photo features a pic I snapped at the most recent Dover reunion . Shoutout to the driver of this awesome slingshot dragster , who ’ s launching wheelsup alongside Steve Clukey ’ s gorgeous Plymouth Duster , a car he bought new in 1970 !
Lebanon Valley Dragway is the 162nd different dragstrip I ’ ve been able to visit in my travels , and while I ’ m always happy to scratch another one off the list , it was rather disappointing to realize that there were once 42 additional tracks in this state that are gone forever . It ’ s a realization that should motivate each of us to get out and explore these treasures while we still have them . DI
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