On August 19, 2022, the long-rumored sale of the Byron Dragway was announced. Kevin Robertson, a Byron Dragway racer, banker and Port Washington, WI. resident with his wife Lori, made it official. Kevin's background is in the health insurance industry and currently the Senior Vice President of the HSA Bank, a division of Webster Bank, N.A. Kevin has been a long time Super Pro bracket racer.
In the announcement, Jake Steder was made the General Manager and Jeff Spierling was appointed as Race Director. Jake is a long time, intermittent small tire drag racer and Jeff is a Midwest Super Comp Series competitor and the Byron Dragway Chief Starter. When Jake was asked how he and Kevin got hooked up, he stated that he thought about purchasing Byron himself. He just could not get the numbers to work out. When Kevin stepped in, he was looking for a management team. BJ (Vangsness) told Kevin he knew someone and the rest is history.
As Byron moves forward, we would be remiss for not mentioning it's past. In 1964, Bob Metzler, Dick Paul (owners of Great Lakes Dragaway) and Don Love built the Rockford Dragway, later renamed to the Byron Dragway. The dragway was originally built as a four-wide racing surface. In 1969, the legendary Ron Leek purchased the Dragway. As a boy in Chicago, Ron had a rough life. In an effort to improve his life, Ron migrated to Rockford. There he met Hugh and John Deery. Hugh took a liking of Ron and told John he should give the kid a chance. Having no place to live, Hugh and his wife, Jody, offered a free furnished apartment. They literally adopted Ron. If you are not aware Hugh and Jody built the Rockford Speedway. This was later repaid as Ron gave the Deery's a 10% interest in Byron. With an interest in cars, Ron took an entry level job at Byron which led to his purchase. In the early years of his ownership, Ron hired a ten-year-old boy to clean up around the track. That boy was BJ Vangsness. We know what that led to!
When I arrived at Byron on Wednesday, the first noticeable change was the missing ticket building.
The concrete pad for the new building was there along with the construction materials. The plan is to complete the construction soon, along with the new Souvenir and Fuel Sales building. Jake's wife Veronica will take over the duties that Rhonda used to have. She stated for 2023, the entrance to the track will be different in that they are currently installing a Point-of-Sale computer system from Trackside Ticketing & Event Technology. This will allow drivers, teams and fans to purchase tickets and sign their waivers by whatever computer device they use, ahead of time. Upon arrival, their QR code will be scanned allowing a quicker access to the track.
As I was walking around the track, I came across the new scoreboards along with the old.
To mount the new scoreboards, the supports had to be extended as can be seen in the below images. There is one extension left and it will be installed when the wind settles down. There is hope they can be up and running for the early events. If not, the racers can still run because the scoreboard does not affect timing and scoring.
The track surface is currently being prepped for the start of the season. The launch area has been ground and is ready to start taking rubber.
Down track, the entire quarter mile is being scraped and prepared for opening day. Jeff, Terry and Ian were scraping on Wednesday
One of the questions I have seen asked, was about the lights for night racing. The 2023 schedule is an expanded schedule that includes many night events. For this year, the lighting will be provided by temporary but expanded lighting. It will be there for use all season. The plan is to eventually install permanent lights. This could not be accomplished this year.
While we are looking forward to a New Byron Dragway, we have to thank BJ, Rhonda and their family for ensuring we have a racetrack to go to. Many racetracks have closed recently due to the fact the land has become more valuable for other uses than keeping it as a racetrack. Bj and Rhonda have spent their lives providing Byron to the racing families. Thank you!
I, for one, am looking forward to the upcoming race season and all the future holds for Byron Dragway. Now. LET'S GO RACING!
Check back throughout the season for race updates and photos on Facebook and at terrymcgrawphotography.com.