Not every dragstrip is fortunate enough to celebrate its 60th anniversary season at all, let alone commemorating the occasion with more facility updates than in any prior season, yet Cecil County Dragway is operating with the belief that six decades is only the beginning for this northern Maryland dragstrip.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #185, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in Nov/Dec of 2023.]
Longtime track owner Jim Halsey confesses that while the impressive renovations certainly fit well into the commemorative narrative, the timing was more coincidental than anything. “We’ve actually been wanting to do a lot of this stuff for a while, but financially it just worked out better to do it now, so it’s actually a coincidence that it fell on our 60th anniversary,” says Halsey.
Perhaps the most noticeable renovation at Cecil County would be the high-quality aluminum bleachers that were just installed in August, with another set scheduled for install on the opposite side of the track this winter. Brand-new LED lighting was also delivered in August, along with some upgrades to the sound system. While the track surface is in good shape and was last improved in 2020, Halsey was gearing up to make a few other adjustments such as lengthening the sandpit, and rearranging the turnoff down at the shutdown area.
Halsey and his wife, Cathy, are the longest tenured owners of this NHRA-sanctioned facility located in Rising Sun, and over the last 25 years of ownership, Halsey has only seen a couple things that truly surprised him, not the least of which was the impact, albeit, short-lived that the Fast and Furious movies had on their business. “I was still a fairly new track owner when that first movie came out in 2001, and the following spring this place was crazy! I remember having 500 racers here for our Friday night street racing, and we were doing 50 grand in revenue on a Friday night!” recalls Halsey.
Unfortunately, the Fast and Furious craze was short-lived, and after about six months, it returned to normal levels. “I guess the other thing that has surprised me the most in the last 25 years is the overall decrease in participation. The younger generation is just not into motorsports the way prior generations were. The drag racing landscape is ever-evolving and you have to change with the times,” he adds.
The Street Car Shootout is a perfect example, and while it’s a mainstay monthly attraction at Cecil County, that’s not to say the event hasn’t changed quite a bit from the early days of its inception. Perhaps the most constant element of that event is the sponsorship from Strange Engineering, which has been solidly in place from very close to the beginning.
The Yellowbullet Nationals is another staple event at Cecil County, and recently completed its 14th running. When Drag Illustrated visited Cecil County in mid-August, the Atlantic .90 Association was there. The group gathers twice-yearly at Cecil, and also tours to other area facilities. The weekend also featured a great car show of American Motors vehicles from yesteryear.
Another form of drag racing that Halsey has seen change over the years is point-earning bracket racing at Cecil County. “We actually haven’t had point bracket racing here for a number of years, but with Atco closing, the opportunity is there to pick up some bracket racers, so we might return to hosting a bracket point series in 2024,” Halsey says. “There’s a couple bracket classes in our Street Car Shootout, and we’ve also held some gambler races recently and they’ve done pretty decent.”
Fans of Pro Modified racing were treated to some great action from the Northeast Outlaw Pro Modified Association this year, which held three events at Cecil in 2023. Halsey has also seen the widespread transition to the eighth mile, although it hasn’t entirely affected the way things are done at Cecil. “We probably do a 50/50 split between the quarter mile and eighth mile,” he says.
The Modern Street Hemi Shootout is another exciting event that gathers once-yearly at Cecil, and the Midwest Drags was a brand-new event for the track that was held in July. “The Midwest Drags is something reminiscent to Drag Week – they drove from Virginia to southern New Jersey, to Cecil, and back to Virginia.”
Another group that visits Cecil eight times per season is the United Nostalgia Stock/SS Series. “That’s a small, local group of older Stock/Super Stock cars that are all but period correct, and it’s a neat deal that averages about 40 cars.”
Cecil County hosts many great events throughout the year, and about the only time Jim and Cathy aren’t here is when they’re traveling the PDRA Pro Nitrous circuit, where Halsey and his team have experienced great success, winning the championship four years in a row. “I’ve got a great and capable staff that runs this place while I’m gone, so I don’t have to worry about it,” Halsey asserts. “When I go on the road, there’s nothing that happens any different at this place than it would when I’m here.”
Track manager Chad Porter is quick to return praise and point out the dedication that starts at the top. “To see Jim and Cathy do this for 25 years is impressive. They pour so much time and effort into this place, and unless they’re gone racing, they’re here…this place is their life,” says Porter.
So, with 60 years being accomplished in fine style, and a host of updates now completed, Cecil County Dragway is gearing up to make the 2024 season the best ever.