Drag racing events pick up speed at airport, raise public safety issues

by Kate Shunney & Geoff Fox

An upcoming drag racing event to be held at the Hancock airport is drawing the attention of public safety officials on both sides of the Potomac as organizers estimate that up to 15,000 could roll into the area to attend.

Late Model Performance, a Manchester, Md. auto shop, will be hosting a two-day Street Racer event on August 24 and 25 at the Potomac Airpark. Organizer Alec Bledsoe said the race would bring racers and film crews from Memphis from the Discovery television series “Street Outlaws.”

According to Bledsoe, the series will film their season finale at the Hancock airport during the event.

Drivers pay to get in and vie for cash prizes in three different classes, racing everything from old cars to newer imports. Spectators pay a separate charge to watch the races. Organizers expect the racing to continue through the night at this month’s event.

This will be the fourth race held by Late Model Performance at the airport. Organizers rent the airport for the events from the private owner, said Bledsoe. Riverside Airpark LLC, under the ownership of Donald Braugnier, has run the airport since 2008.

While the airport is privately owned, the Federal Aviation Administration classifies it as a public use airport.

Previous drag racing events at the airport have drawn large crowds. Bledsoe said word of mouth and social media advertising have spread the word about the races faster than anticipated.

“It’s really jumped tremendously in the last eight months.”

Hancock Police Chief Rich Miller told town officials last week that heavy attendance estimates have raised some worries, including getting emergency responders to and around the event.

The only public access to the Potomac Airpark is by Airport Lane off the Hancock Bridge.

At the height of traffic for one of the drag races, traffic was backed up on the bridge and as far back as I-70.

Chief Miller said blocked bridge traffic poses a risk if there’s an emergency and first responders can’t get through.

Hancock Mayor Ralph Salvagno said it’s a public safety concern.

“It’s not just an issue about somebody getting hurt there, it’s about somebody getting hurt and having an accident here and not being able to get through the traffic in town,” Salvagno said. “That’s my concern. That’s, I think, the council’s concern, too.”

Salvagno said he had been in contact with event organizers about the elevated numbers of people expected in the Hancock area for the races.

He said town officials would support anyone who would do an event like the drag racing event, just as long as it is appropriately planned for.

Hancock police don’t have jurisdiction in the area immediately around the race because the airport is on the West Virginia side of the Potomac.

Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer has talked over event issues with Chief Miller, organizers and the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH).

Bohrer said his department is making preparations to have extra personnel on hand for the late August race.

According to an email shared with Bohrer, the DOH has told race organizers they must carry liability insurance and create a traffic control plan. Traffic control is the responsibility of the event organizer. Local law enforcement agencies will enforce the plan, said Bohrer.

Bledsoe said he and his partners haven’t heard complaints about the traffic blockages or any other issues tied to his events so far.

“We haven’t had any grief. We really didn’t expect it to be that big,” he said.

Their first “show” was held last December and has steadily attracted more and more followers here. A second race attracted more than 3,000 people and 120 cars showed up to race, said Bledsoe.

Organizers have heard positive feedback from area businesses, he said.

“The local restaurant owners, hotel owners are loving it,” said Bledsoe.

Bledsoe said another big racing event is planned at the airport in the fall.

Street racers looking for a new venue and new competition have been attracted to the airport events. Bledsoe said it’s not like driving a racetrack, where the racing surface is prepped. At the Hancock airport, the mile-long runway is a little rough. Cars race an eighth of a mile, said Bledsoe.

“We all street race. Street racing is pretty wild right now,” he said. The races appeal to a wide variety of people, said Bledsoe – “any adrenalin junkie, people who like cars and racing.”

An aerial photo shows the Hancock airport, also known as the Potomac Airpark, during a recent car race. photo courtesy of Alec Bledsoe

 

14 Comments

  1. Rick Fling on August 15, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    I live straight across from the airport the noise is terrible when you have to get up the next day at 4am for work also that strip is no way safe for that many cars with constant racing and no way is safe for that many spectators the facilities there can’t handle that many for parking eventually the road will get blocked for emergency vehicles to get in and out

    • DIANNA COFFMAN on August 21, 2018 at 1:51 pm

      I guess spectators, people that are doing the racing and residents in our little town of Hancock MD isnt that important. I think that there should be a bridge put in where the one was that was washed out in what was it 1933 Flood?

  2. John Hernandes on August 16, 2018 at 8:22 am

    This race event has been great to watch. Heard about it in town back in December and we went to spectate. Nice to finally have something going on in town that gets everyone off the street.

    • Kimberlee on August 18, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      where can I buy tickets for next weeks race? Does anyone know?

  3. Kathy Bennett on August 17, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Let them race, if necessary charge a fee, let this new generation have some fun, when I was growing up they all went to the quarter mile on River Road. Be flexible people! Change can be good, but no one adapts to change well

  4. Lisa Swanson on August 21, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    When is the airport used for planes?

    • Editor on August 21, 2018 at 1:45 pm

      It is considered a public airport by the Federal Aviation Administration and can be used at any time.

      • DIANNA COFFMAN on August 21, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        Then maybe the FAA needs to be the ones take responsibility for what happens from holding a Venue of this magnitude. I bet they wouldn’t be apt to allow just any use of the Airport then would they?

  5. DIANNA COFFMAN on August 21, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    What about the residents in Hancock and if there is an emergency such as heart attack or one where time is of the essences this is not good for our well being the businesses only see whats going into their pockets and not the safety of their community and that is sad. Shows just how much a life means when there is money to be made. A life has no price because it is priceless.

  6. Amy on August 21, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    People need to stop being so selfish!! Let them race you don’t like it oh well… you ppl complaining are just miserable and need to learn how to live life cause you only get one life so enjoy it!!! It’s only one day

  7. Nancy on August 23, 2018 at 8:26 am

    I have seen no info on the hours the racing will be going on. Would like to know in order to avoid the area at that time

  8. Common Cents on August 23, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I appears that the powers-to-be in Hancock have known about this event for a while.
    Why have they not embraced and capitalized on this event and worked with the Host to bring some business into Hancock. Lord knows it needs some help.
    I would bet that the plans Hancock uses for parades be adapted to handle the traffic.
    But then this means that someone would have to do something.

  9. Steve on August 23, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Traveling from NYC TO Berkeley Springs. To avoid the bridge and traffic backed up to Rt. 70 in the afternoon of the race, should I take 81 to Martinsburg and the Rt 9 West to Berkeley Springs.
    HELP!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. chad on September 12, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    I agree let people have fun, I have raced out of town for money in my town on a weekend and just had a blast now the cruising spot is gone 1999 was the last of it. mountain parties, music, four wheeling, etc Nowadays someone complains about so much is got so bad most just stay in on weekends, Well I see it a good thing and I hope more things like that start up we need some fun, Hell I might take my nova there and it ain’t all about money its about grouping together and talking face to face instead of texting etc. So Let them go and I will join them. RACE RACE. PEOPLE THAT DON”T LIKE IT DON”T WORRY NOT HURTING U, Stay home and get a life u have one.

Leave a Comment