Sprint Car racing in the state of Alaska exists, but on a much smaller scale than many other places in the United States. There are only three tracks in the entire state that currently run sprint cars.
All are winged 360 dirt events and usually bring no more than 10 cars per event. Many times it’s less. No more than two to three cars are all that’s available on some nights.
Alaska is a long way from the U.S. mainland, and that presents challenges. Anchorage to Seattle is a 43-hour drive time. It’s too far to entice cars from the U.S. mainland to compete. In addition, the cost of racing in this remote part of the country doesn’t help matters either. What cars they have are what they must pull from regularly.
Alaska Raceway Park in Palmer, Alaska opened in 2016. The third-mile, semi-banked, NASCAR-sanctioned asphalt oval is approximately 41.5 miles northeast of Anchorage. The facility is arguably one of the nicest you will find anywhere in the entire country.
The track is a mere 13 miles from Wasilla, the hometown of 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
The track was built on the grounds of a current IHRA member quarter-mile dragstrip that was created in 1964. At one time the facility included a quarter-mile dirt track which operated from 1980-‘86.
The racing facility may be one of the most scenic in the world and features breathtaking views of majestic scenery surrounding the speedway. It sits 63 feet above sea level and the 6,398-foot Pioneer Peak proudly overlooks the speedway, amid low-hanging clouds.
During construction of the new asphalt speedway, local Palmer sprint car driver Dave Hughes saw an opportunity. The transplanted Virginian became interested in possibly competing on the new track with his winged 360 dirt sprint car. After the track was completed, Hughes convinced track owner Earl Lackey to let him put on an exhibition with his sprint car.
“When they started putting the asphalt track in, I saw an opportunity to get some asphalt sprint car races there,” explains Hughes. “I was getting tired of the dirt and mud. I’m a one-person show and there is a lot work that goes into running the dirt when you don’t have a lot of help. I thought, ‘Here’s a nice track that’s clean and close to where I live. If we can get a class of these running on the asphalt, that would be the way for me to go.’
“I got to talking to the W.E.S.C.O. sprint series and Bert Johnson down in Washington about how to convert the car from dirt to asphalt, and we’ve been going from there.”
Prior to 2019, there still weren’t enough sprinters to do more than put on exhibitions. Track owner Earl Lackey put them on the schedule each week with the understanding that if enough cars were to ever show up he was willing to let them race.
With no purse being offered, and the lack of availability of pavement sprint car tires in Alaska, very few teams showed any interest.
Hughes put on an exhibition the year the track opened. It was primitive, to say the least, but created a buzz.
“The first time I went out there to do an exhibition I had dirt tires on the back,” Hughes explained. “Earl (Lackey) game me some slicks that the late models run on. I put them on the front. The car did pretty good on dirt tires. That’s where the interest started.”
On July 25 the social media Facebook page Pavement Pounders publicly offered a $250 bonus to anyone who could break the track record of 14.202 seconds set by Tonya Klaylum in a winged sprint car on May 11.
The challenge went viral and created interest from all over the country. Instantly, three local cars came forward and said they would participate in the Aug. 4 speed trials.
Although a new track record wasn’t established, the day was a resounding success. The hotter temperature of 78 degrees – which was 12 degrees above the average – and unavailability of new tires were the circumstances that helped inhibit a new track record.
The national exposure of the day’s events has spurred interest in a possible race for 2020. Must See Racing, the premier winged asphalt sprint car series in America, along with American Racer Tires and Pavement Pounders, have pledged to help get tires to teams in time for the proposed race in August of 2020.
In addition, a purse is being established and sponsors are coming forward to ensure the race does indeed happen.
All signs point to the start of pavement sprint car racing in Alaska in 2020, and hopefully for many years to come.