National Trail Raceway & Clark Rader Jr.

Who could possibly forget such classics as the Hemi Under Glass or the Little Red Wagon? What about the names Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, Don Garlits, the Ohio Gassers, and Gordon Collett? No one around the Kirkersville, Buckeye Lake, and Hebron areas, for sure. National Trail Raceway has seen the best racers from around the Midwest and the world race down the famous Ľ mile and participate in great racing action. With all of the success that the area has gained through the track, it was a vision of the Rader family that brought the finest racing in the world to Central Ohio.
Clark Rader Sr. (back right) watches as the ribbon is cut to open NTR in 1964.

The Rader Years
Using the premise "Build it and they will come," Clark Rader Sr., a man who made his fame through vaudeville acts, along with sons Clark Jr. and Ben, broke ground for National Trail Raceway in the fall of 1963. Located in Kirkersville, it was a 320-acre facility, the fifth largest of its kind in the United States at the time. Upon completion of the complex in 1964, the Raders began the work towards making National Trail Raceway the best racing facility in the Midwest.
Clark Rader Jr.

In 1972, after using three different tracks in the seven years, National Trail Raceway played host for the first time to the NHRA Springnationals. NHRA Founder and Board Chairman Wally Parks stated “we had the feeling that we were 10 years overdue because of the tremendous fan base that was indicated by NHRA membership and National DRAGSTER circulation numbers from the area.“ Their suspicions proved correct when the race drew more than 40,000 spectators and 600 cars. On both Saturday and Sunday, the gates had to be closed while cars were still sitting on Route 40 waiting to get in to the event as the grounds were already full. National Trail Raceway was an instant success - unfortunately, one that the Clark Rader Sr. was unable to share with his sons due to his death just months before the event went off. That was a heartbreak to Clark Jr. because his father had worked so hard to bring the event to the facility.

The Springnationals continued to prosper and grow through the watch of the Rader family. National Trail Raceway was the first track that Shirley Muldowney won a national event at (1976) and held the first all female professional final round in NHRA history (Muldowney def. Lucille Lee in 1982) NTR was the site of the emotional win of Frank Hawley at the wheel of Darrel Gwynn’s Top Fuel dragster in their first event after Gwynn’s terrible accident in England during the 1990 season. NTR also was the host of the NHRA Sportsman Allstars event on Saturday during the national event. All of the big names in NHRA like Garlits, Beck, Kalitta, Amato, Prudhomme, Bernstein, Beetle, Force, Glidden, Jenkins, Nicholson, Shepherd, and Johnson graced the winner circle under the Rader watch. While suprisies like Chip Woodall, Bob Pickett, Richie Zul, and Craig Eppley also won. For the fans of Central Ohio, their was plenty of excietment for everyone.
After such a successful beginning, Clark and Ben built additional stands, more restrooms, and a larger pit area and added more asphalt to the strip. Their crowds had grown from 40,000 in 1972 to over 120,000 in 1995. Through all the years, Clark and Ben worked the track personally and kept it up and running through the 1995 season. In 1996, NHRA purchased the track from the Rader family and started a new era in the track’s history.

The NHRA Years

With the purchase of NTR by NHRA, the track began to have several improvements including the new VIP and operations tower, a completely repaved track surface, pit improvements and expansion, and other amenities. The Springnationals was renamed the Tony Schumacher rockets to 4.486 336.15 win in 2005 final round Pontiac Excitement Nationals and then to the Pontiac Performance Nationals. One of the biggest highlights to come at NTR happened in 2005 when first the national event was changed from mid June to mid May. Then at the event, Tony Schumacher set the NHRA National Speed record at 336.15 mph. The action continues throughout each and every summer here at National Trail Raceway.  Home to many of the greatest touring series in the nation including NMRA, Import FaceOff, Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, the Super Chevy Show, and the Mopar Nationals, National Trail Raceway will continue to advance and strive to become the greatest racing facility in the Midwest.

In the early part of 2001, the National Trail Raceway community lost a great patriot arc when Clark Rader Jr. past away. Even though he had sold the track, Clark was still visible at the track during racing events throughout the rest of his life. Though Clark has left us, we can rest assured he will be watching over his National Trail Raceway, as always.

Thank you, Clark, for all of your hard work and contributions to the sport of drag racing.

About National Trail Raceway

Opened: 1964
Track Surface: Concrete/Asphalt
Concrete Launch pad: 660 Feet
Track Direction: North to South
Elevation: 900 Feet
Track Records
Top Fuel: 2006 / Tony Schumacher
ET: 4.476 @ 336.15 mph

Wally Parks Tribute

Wally Parks, the driving force behind the formation of NHRA, died on September 28th at the age of 94. It was Parks’ vision, goals and unconditional commitment to the need for speed and side-by-side racing in a safer, more controlled environment that created what is today the world's largest motorsports governing body. 
Parks, who founded NHRA in 1951, never implied that he did it all himself. Reflecting on the tremendous growth and success of NHRA, he noted how fortunate he was that so many dedicated people had shared his outlook that almost anything is possible if you believe in it strongly enough. One of the most dedicated was unquestionably his late wife, Barbara Parks, who was regarded as the most influential behind-the-scenes force in the growth of NHRA. Mrs. Parks succumbed to cancer in late January of 2006 after a long battle with the devastating illness.

But without Parks' vision and perseverance, much of what has happened may not have been achieved.
Born in Oklahoma and living in Kansas until age 8, Parks and his family then moved to California, where his automotive interests surfaced. In his high school years, he became active in building stripped-down Model-T Fords and Chevy fours for use on the street and in early speed trials conducted on dry lakebeds in the Mojave Desert, north of Los Angeles.

In 1937, Parks took part in the formation of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) – an organization focused on conducting land speed record events – serving as one of its officials until World War II began. In 1946, following military service in the South Pacific, Parks was elected president of the reorganized SCTA. In 1947, after 10 years of employment as a road test driver and process engineer for General Motors, Parks left GM to assume a new role as the SCTA's general manager. It was his concept that produced America's first Hot Rod Show, presented by the SCTA in 1948 at the Los Angeles Exposition Armory.

In 1948, Parks helped co-publishers Bob Petersen and Bob Lindsay in the introduction of Hot Rod magazine, which became one of the world's largest-circulation auto-enthusiast publications, and later was named its first editor. In 1949, Parks organized the campaign that led to the opening of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats for hot rod speed trials – a still-thriving annual activity.

In 1951, utilizing Hot Rod as a conduit to nationwide readership, Parks formed the NHRA. In 1963, he resigned his position as editorial director for all of Petersen's automotive magazines – Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Car Craft, Sports Car Graphic and Motor Life – to assume full-time administrative duties as president of NHRA.

An early recipient of Car Craft magazine's prestigious Ollie Award for his many contributions to motorsports, Parks was named Man of the Decade, 1962-1972 by Popular Hot Rodding magazine and was recognized as Man of the Year in 1973 by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). The American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) honored Parks in 1988 and again in 1994 for his pioneering efforts in motorsports. Parks received his highest honors in 1992 and 1993. He was drag racing's first inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 in Talladega, Ala., and in 1993, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Novi, Mich.

In 1994, the tributes to Parks' legacy continued to pile up. A large bronze statue of Parks was presented at NHRA's Gainesville Raceway, which was eventually moved to its current location in front of the NHRA Motorsports Museum at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. Later in 1994, Parks and wife Barbara were co-inductees into the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Ocala, Fla., for their pioneering efforts, which spearheaded NHRA's success. Parks also was the first recipient of the Don Prudhomme Award, a trophy presented by NHRA to an individual who has made a profound impact on the growth and positive image of the NHRA POWERade Series.

At the 2001 NHRA Awards Ceremony, Parks was presented the prestigious Blaine Johnson Award for his dedication, perseverance and nurturing commitment to the sport throughout the years.

In 2002, Parks again was recognized for his many contributions to the sport of drag racing. He was presented with the inaugural Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth annual Hot Rod & Performance Trade Show in Indianapolis. The late Petersen, a renowned automotive publisher and creator of multiple automotive magazines, then presented Parks with the all-bronze sculpture which was created to honor the entrepreneurs who have contributed to the history, growth and well-being of the hot rod industry.
In late 2003, Parks received another honor of distinction, as he was named the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles.

Parks remained on NHRA's board of directors and dedicated much of his time to his personal involvement with the cultivation and expansion of The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum at Fairplex in Pomona, home of the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals and Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.  Although much of the museum's historical focus is on the evolution of NHRA and drag racing, it also features many other forms of motorsports that relate closely to the formative years of NHRA, including dry lakes, Bonneville, oval track racing, and allied performance industries.

These are elements that appealed most to Wally Parks, a guy who had been there, done that, and enjoyed and appreciated it for decades.

To look back at the great Wally Parks and everything that he meant to NHRA and drag racing as a form of racing, please visit the NHRA Wally page.