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NHRA Nationals a hit

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:48 PM

If you build it, they will come. They just never said how many were coming.

This weekend's inaugural Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk not only broke every attendance record on the books, it destroyed them.

Although official numbers have not been announced, one look at the stands, parking lots and long lines of traffic were all you needed to see.

As the pros raced down the track, traffic was backed up on Ohio 18 both ways as far as the eye could see. Many fans missed part or all of the first professional qualifying round.

"We're getting ahead of it," track president Bill Bader Jr. said. "But it's probably a couple of miles.

"It's not that we can't handle the volume, but we are getting way, way, way more volume than we expected.

"The (Ohio) Highway Patrol is taking aerial photos for us to see what is going on. We will fix it."

Bader said the park would do the best it could for Sunday's finals, but the real fix wouldn't come until next year.

Reports Sunday said the traffic flow was much better. "Lt. (James) Bryan lent us all his expertise," Bill Bader Sr. said Sunday afternoon.

The stands were packed Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"I can tell you it was huge," Bader said of the numbers. "I didn't anticipate this. I budgeted for X number of people. I got the numbers from the Columbus race (which Norwalk replaced on the National Hot Rod Association circuit) and budgeted for a nice Columbus crowd. This is out of control in a good way. The alternative is that nobody would have come. I give you my word this will be fixed by next year. We've got to come up with a way."

Bader also said he was looking into more stands for next year's event at least 5,000 more seats.

David Hayes, of Clarkston, Mich., came for the weekend with his young sons, Austin and Kyle.

"This is the first time I've been here for a big event," Hayes said. "This is great. It's been a great weekend so far."

Here are some quick hits:

This was the 11th stop on the 23-race POWERade Countdown to the Championship and the second of six straight weeks the longest racing stretch in the history of the NHRA. Cars will compete this weekend at the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn. That event originally was scheduled for earlier in the season but postponed because of track problems. The season ends with the Auto Club NHRA Finals Nov. 1 to 4 in Pomona, Calif.

Bader Sr., who purchased the track in 1974, was thrilled with the weekend. "Am I excited? Yes," Bader said. "Am I satisfied? Hell yes."

In preparation for the race, workers laid 1,150,000 million square feet of asphalt.

NHRA officials announced Saturday a multi-year agreement with K&N Engineering, Inc., to sponsor the K&N Horsepower Challenge, a bonus series for Pro Stock competition. The season-long competition began this weekend and will culminate with the shoot-out for $50,000 at next year's event in Norwalk.

The talk of the weekend was a staple in Norwalk Wild Bill's Ice Cream Saloon which features a pound of ice cream for a buck. Crews from ESPN2 were all over the parlor Saturday morning filming segments for its weekend show. Speaking of ESPN2, the sports network showed same-day coverage from Norwalk one hour Saturday night, along with a half-hour preshow and a three-hour wrap-up Sunday.

One of the scariest moments of the weekend came in qualifying round No. 3 Saturday afternoon when the chassis of Del Worsham's Funny Car exploded near the finish line. The good news was he walked away and the run got him into the 16th and final qualifying spot for Sunday. The bad news? His car blew up and it was the second one he wrecked over the weekend.

Former Cleveland Cavalier Larry Nance raced a Pro Stock car this weekend after taking four years off from the sport. His debut was anything but spectacular, however, as he stalled on his first run Friday and limped down the track. He finished 24th in the 25-car field did not make Sunday's final 16 shoot-out.

Two of the busiest men on the weekend were starter Rick Stewart (who started every race over the four days) and announcer Bob Frey.

Lachelle Seymour of the NHRA public relations department is a native of St. Louisville, Ohio. "It's between Mount Vernon and Newark. We had one stoplight in our town. It's like a homecoming for me," she said about coming to Norwalk. "For a lot of us this is like a homecoming."

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