In an era where news of a drag strip closing seems to be common place, it’s refreshing to hear of a new one being built.
Callahan Speedway in Nassau County, Northeast Florida is slated to add a drag strip to its race complex.
Callahan businessman David Hicken said he used to drag race motorcycles all over the country, including long-gone tracks in the Jacksonville area. The idea to add the asphalt and concrete drag strip to the racetracks they have for go-karts, motorcycles and radio-controlled racers came about three years ago.
“We had some people asking me, ‘Why don’t you build a drag strip?’ and my first thoughts were, I don’t think the county would let me,” Hicken said. “We started looking into it, and that’s how it started. I went down and I did get my permit, and that was a major feat right there — it’s been three years getting the major permits to go to work.”
Right now, the closest drag strip to Callahan Speedway is the National Hot Rod Association’s 54-year-old Gainesville Raceway, a quarter-mile track that is 74 miles from Jacksonville.
Closer to Jacksonville, there are none anymore.
Green Cove Dragway was open from 2013 to early 2017, sanctioned by the International Hot Rod Association. The ⅛-mile drag strip was built on an old runway at the former Lee Field Naval Air Station, a World War II aviation training facility at what is now the Reynolds Industrial Park. But its site was taken over to store cars.
Jacksonville also had a ⅛-mile drag strip on Pecan Park Road. Jax Raceways opened in 1969, then shut its drag strip and oval dirt track permanently in 2004 to make way for development.
Then in 2010, Hicken and James Wofford opened a ⅕-mile racetrack for go-kart racing, its surface made from red clay imported from Georgia. The oval track is on the rodeo grounds at the Northeast Florida Fairgrounds off U.S. 1, with grandstands, track facilities and a large parking area to the south.
The drag strip will now be built on the south side of the current speedway. The ⅛-mile, two-lane track will join a smaller motorcycle racing course and one for radio-controlled car racing. The drag strip already got approval from the Nassau County Conditional Use and Variance Board, and joins this week’s nod by the St. Johns River Water Management District.
“They told me I was in too much of the wetlands,” Hicken said. “So we reengineered it and redid and moved it out of the wetlands. … I kept moving it over until we were clear.”
With that final approval, Hicken and his team had their first meeting late Monday with contractors to review the plans and discuss the steps ahead. A groundbreaking ceremony should happen in the next few weeks, after county officials and the contractor go over the final plans.
“It could possibly be built somewhere between four and five months,” Hicken said.
The track will include a 60-foot-long concrete burnout and staging area, then asphalt track for racing that ends with a shutdown area and a 500-foot dirt area for emergency stopping. Concrete barriers will flank the track for safety.
“We will start out running in the daytime, and I have a bunch of ballpark bleachers,” he said. “We are just trying to get open and make steady improvements. We are a Mom and Pop operation — a true Mom and Pop operation — and we are going to have to take it a step at a time. We just want to get it open and bring in the money to continue to do all the different things that we are going to do.”
All race cars will have to have mufflers to keep noise levels down and keep neighbors happy, he said. But once it opens, he envisions the hot rod and classic car clubs in Northeast Florida will rumble in for the racing and more.
“I think it’s really going to be a cool, not only drag racing deal, but it’s going to be a cool hangout, if you know what I mean,” Hicken said. “People will be riding up here in all kind of stuff. I am predicting them showing their stuff off and watching drag racing.”
Estimates to build the entire drag strip facility hover at about $1 million, with sponsors and other sources for funding, as they seek other sources, Hicken said.