The Hippo


Sep 23, 2019








A race car at the New England Dragway approaches the starting line. Photo by Ryan Lessard.

New England Dragway

Where: 280 Exeter Road, Epping
When: Street Nights every Wednesday and Friday. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and racing starts at 6 p.m. See website for weekend events.
Cost: $25 for drivers to race during a Street Night; $10 for spectators
Contact: 679-8001

Burning rubber
Race your own car, legally

By Ryan Lessard

There are a lot of ways to have fun on wheels, but few are as high speed as drag racing at the New England Dragway in Epping. 

Amateur racing
Joe Lombardo, the dragway's general manager, said every Wednesday and Friday night the quarter-mile racing strip is host to amateur street racing.
“We're a facility where you can come in right off the street, purchase a ticket, have your car go through a quick safety inspection, and then make as many runs as you want down the track just to see what it will do,” said Lombardo.
Lombardo said you don't have to be a “motorhead” or a “ricer,” as some car-racing enthusiasts are often called, to show up at the dragway looking to burn some rubber.
“If you took a look at our demographics, it's pretty wide-ranging, both in terms of age and [gender]. ... We have a lot of women that race,” Lombardo said.
Lombardo said drag racing isn’t the kind of racing you’ll find on TV.
“[It's a] totally different form of racing than what you would see with NASCAR,” Lombardo said. “Two cars pull up to the starting line, and I have a person out there who activates what we call a ‘Christmas tree,’ which is a starting-line mechanism. And as soon as those cars leave and break those infrared beams, it starts a timer that we maintain up in the tower.”
Times change
Lombardo has been general manager of the dragway for about 18 years and said many things have changed since he started.
“It used to be, in the old days — the old days being 25, 30 years ago — that you'd see a lot of muscle cars like Camaros, Chevelles, GTOs. That type of thing. Now, we're seeing an awful lot of the imports, which are just as fast and just as quick as some of those cars that were purposely built for the racetrack many years ago,” Lombardo said. “A lot of Hondas, a lot of Nissans. The Hondas are pretty popular because they can take a Honda Civic and they can put an Acura engine in it. That seems to be a pretty popular changeover nowadays.”
Lombardo says he also sees Toyota Supras, BMWs and a few Mercedes. He sees people coming to experiment with modifications, like one man who brought his wife's BMW to the dragway, raced it a few times unaltered, then tweaked the boost level on the car's turbocharger and raced it again.
Spectator sport
But if racing your own car isn't your thing, you can also come to watch others race.
Every weekend, purpose-built race cars can be seen competing on the track, but there’s one weekend event that stands out. 
In 2013, the New England Dragway became a part of the National Hot Rod Association's championship circuit. So, for one weekend every June, about 60,000 spectators descend upon the dragway, which underwent some upgrades to be able to host the national event. It’s proven so popular that the dragway is now trying to expand parking capacity. 
During the event, professional drivers in souped up race cars blast their way down the the strip at 300 miles per hour and deploy a parachute to bring the vehicle to a stop.
Lombardo said the national event brings big names in the sport like John Force and Erica Enders. Spectators can interact with the drivers in the pit area between “passes.”
“It's pretty unique in the world of motorsports in that you get right up close and personal with your favorite driver,” Lombardo said. 
This year, the flagship NHRA event is scheduled for June 12 through June 14. 
As seen in the April 23, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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