WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — U.S. 13 Dragway recently kicked off its season in a big way.
After renewing its commitment to the International Hot Rod Ass’n with a new sanctioning agreement, the Delmar, Delaware track enjoyed a big crowd over a sunny weekend.
The historic facility, which opened in 1963, features a quarter-mile drag strip and a half-mile clay oval known as Delaware Int’l Speedway. For track owner Charlie Cathell, being a part of the IHRA and the Summit SuperSeries makes sense.
The 76-year-old Cathell was one of the earliest supporters of bracket racing. The IHRA Summit SuperSeries program with track champions qualifying for the IHRA Summit World Finals in Memphis is similar to a program ran decades ago at his dirt track.
“A bracket program was something we had initially in the 70s,” he said. “We were also affiliated with a dirt organization where they had a program if you qualified at your local dirt track, you went to their version of the world finals at Syracuse. It was something good to offer the local racers.
“At the time, we were struggling along with everyone else. Class racing was starting to draw back and the tracks didn’t have the same standards. We were ready to fold the drag strip and I put bracket racing on table as a solution that might help us all. Bracket racing has been the salvation of a lot for a lot of drag strips.”
That being said, Cathell isn’t talking about the big-money event, but more supporting the local tracks with programs such as the IHRA Summit SuperSeries, the largest and most prestigious program in bracket racing.
Daryl Beauchamp won Top and Mod track championships, while Brett Holston captured the Junior Dragster titles at US 13 Dragway last season.
Just a few moments with Cathell and it’s easy to hear the passion in his voice. He tells the history of how the track got started.
His parents were the original owners of the track and he describes them as hard working people, who owned a small trucking company and other businesses. When they decided to venture into track ownership, they put a deposit down on a piece of property in Maryland. The local laws prohibited any businesses outside of movie theatres charging admission on Sundays.
One of Cathell’s friends had the land in Delaware, which his parents purchased and soon got a right-of-way off U.S. Route 13. Cathell caught the racing bug, finding success in a number of muscle cars.
The track was late getting started and Cathell said the crowds and race cars were a little shallow.
They opened a dirt track on the property in 1965. It was four years later after a renovation to bring fans closer to the action, that the property started to really take off. Now, the speedway part of the property features such cars as Big-Block Modifieds and Super Late Models.
With his lifetime of experience, Cathell has an appreciation for other track owners.
“Anybody that owns one of these knows it’s an ongoing struggle,” he said. “The biggest competition is Mother Nature.”
As for his part, Cathell is always looking to better the facility with a number of safety improvements unveiled before the 2019 season. A common refrain heard at many IHRA member tracks, Cathell said a key to success is the family atmosphere at US 13 Dragway.
“We’re blessed to have what you call Eastern Shore hospitality,” Cathell said. “When you come here to race, if it’s your first race, you’ll find someone over there talking to you and they will do something to help you. Now when you pull on the starting line, they’re going to try to whip your tail.
“But if you’re broke, you have needs, there are people there to help you get in the buy-back program. It’s not just us, it’s what I call our racer family. We’re in the third generation of ownerships and third generation of racers.”