Golden anniversary could produce fast times at Alaska Raceway Park

Mike Nesper

Jamie Bodenstadt has reached 279 mph in his car.

And he wants to go faster.

Bodenstadt, of Fairbanks, is bringing his 6,000-horsepower dragster to Alaska Raceway Park for three days of racing in honor of the track's 50th anniversary. Action runs Friday through Sunday in the Butte.

Bodenstadt will be one of two drivers of nitro-powered altered vehicles. Longtime dragster Ricky Ruiz of Nevada will battle Bodenstadt to see who has the fastest car during the event dubbed Grudge Match of the Century.

Bodenstadt owns the current track record of 279 mph -- a speed he's hoping to top as he and Ruiz scorch down the quarter-mile track side-by-side.

"This is extreme power," said track owner Karen Lackey. "When one of them goes down the track the ground shakes -- and we're going to have a pair of them."

Bodenstadt isn't the only driver hoping to make history. A sparkling track, which was recently cleaned with Tide, could make for record-setting runs in several events, Lackey said.

Because the nitro race is over in less than six seconds, Bodenstadt said he doesn't notice how fast he's going.

"It's just massive acceleration," he said.

Bodenstadt and Ruiz are slated to race twice on Friday and Sunday, starting at 2 p.m. both days. The three-day event is scheduled to have racing all day Friday and Sunday and Saturday afternoon, provided it doesn't rain -- races can't be held on a wet track, Lackey said.

The big weekend is part of the track's anniversary celebration. The late Lee Nelson leased land from the state and started building a track in 1963, and a year later, Polar Dragway opened.

The Nelson family owned the track for three decades. Over the years, Nelson leased it to other individuals and the track's name changed a few times before becoming Alaska Raceway Park in 1994.

That same year, a group of businessmen purchased the racing operation and incorporated it. One of them was Lackey's husband, Earl. In 1998, the Lackeys purchased the track outright and currently own it with their daughter, Michelle Maynor.

In 2000, the track received a facelift when the old surface was replaced with 4,100 feet of asphalt and a heated 300-foot concrete launch pad was built.

The International Hot Rod Association named Alaska Raceway Park its track of the year in 2003, and the track earned another IHRA honor two years ago.

Today, the park has amenities that weren't around 50 years ago -- expanded bleacher seating, a snack bar and a gift shop, plus the main building is five times bigger than the original, Lackey said. The track's safety features have improved too, she noted, citing an on-site fire truck.

Depending on rainouts, Alaska Raceway Park holds about 30 races a season, which runs from Mother's Day to Labor Day.

Multi-generation families participate in races, Lackey said, and competitors are quick to help each other, whether it's assisting with maintenance or loaning a spare part.

"It's an amazingly tight-knit community," she said.

That all stops come race time.

"When they're on the line, it's serious competition," Lackey said.

Reach Mike Nesper at or 257-4335.

Holiday on wheels

The Fourth of the July weekend is a big one at Southcentral race tracks. Besides three days of drag racing in the Butte, Willow's Capitol Speedway will have three days of stock car racing and Kenai's Twin City Raceway will have two days of competition.

Alaska Raceway Park

Friday -- Gates open 10 a.m., time trials 11

Saturday -- Gates open 2 p.m., time trials 4

Sunday -- Gates open 10 a.m., time trials 11

Capitol Speedway (Willow)

Friday -- Gates open at 4 p.m., racing at 6 p.m.

Saturday -- Gates open at 4 p.m., racing at 6 p.m.

Sunday -- Gates open at noon, racing at 2 p.m.

(Races include demolition derbies on Friday and Saturday)

Twin City Raceway (Kenai)

Circle track races

Friday and Saturday

3 p.m. -- Gates open

4 p.m. -- Qualifying

6 p.m. -- Races start

(Races include stock cars, legends, late models, trucks and sprint cars)