FAIRBANKS — The sounds of engines filled the air early Saturday afternoon at Fort Wainwright’s Ladd Army Airfield during the Wells Fargo Midnight Sun Drag Weekend.
A year from now, the sounds of engines will be replaced with the sounds of construction machinery. This is the last summer the Fairbanks Racing Lions will conduct events at what used to be home for Army aircraft during World War II.
The entire area, including the quarter-mile asphalt strip hosting two and four-wheeled vehicles this weekend, will be replaced by a new airfield.
“This whole area will be torn up next summer,” Jamie Bodenstadt, president of the Fairbanks Racing Lions, said Saturday during a break in the first of two events this year at Ladd Field.
The competitors looking for fast times and speeds Saturday now will be looking for another place to race. They might even turn their engines off for a while.
“If I don’t race (next year), this will be just going into the storage shed until next time,” said Robert Leonard, who is racing “Family Tradition,” a converted 1970 Chevrolet Vega with a 383 cubic-inch engine capable of 650 horsepower.
The Fairbanks Racing Lions, who have conducted races at Ladd Field for two years, have plans to build a community motorsports center, but Bodenstadt said, “That’s a tall order. That’s 200 or 300 acres and a couple of million dollars.”
“It seems like every month, we’re a step closer to the process,” he added. “We have plans, we have ideas and we’re working toward that. As for something immediate next year, I can only hope that something opens up.”
Bodenstadt said he might consider approaching officials at Eielson Air Force Base about racing there.
“I know that Fort Wainwright and Eielson are big in supporting the community, and if there’s a chance, I’ll try to make it happen,” he said.
If there’s no racing on Eielson, the organization will continue to plan and work for a community motorsports center. However, it’s going to take a few years before such a facility becomes reality.
“Five years off, easily,” said Bodenstadt. “Four if we’re real lucky.”
If no facility is available for drag racing locally, the next closest option is more than 300 miles south — the Alaska Raceway Park in Palmer. It’s an expensive option compared to Ladd Field, which will have racing again today, with preliminaries at 9 a.m. and elimination heats at 2 p.m. Another event will take place July 9-11.
Bodenstadt had two alcohol-fueled dragsters parked outside his racing trailer Saturday. He estimated it would take about $3,000, including transportation costs, to race for a weekend in Palmer.
“You have to get fuel, and we have a crew of five people and a motor home. It’s a big deal for us when we go down there,” he said. “For the regular guys, just hauling a motor home and a (vehicle) trailer, they’re up for a $1,000 weekend.”
“Just getting to and from this track, it’s pennies compared to driving to Palmer,” he said.
Another advantage of racing at Ladd Field is that if a racer needs a spare part for his vehicle, the resources are close by.
“When we’re here, we can go all out, and when something breaks, we can go right home, and we’re in town,” said Jeremy Ubben, who’s racing a 2008 Dodge Caliber small wagon featuring a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine with 300 hp.
The two-year racer and some friends have competed at Alaska Raceway Park before.
“A lot of my friends didn’t want to go all out there because they’d start breaking stuff,” Ubben said, “and you don’t want to tow a car home from Palmer.”
The entry fees for the Midnight Sun Drag Weekend and for racing on July 9-11 go toward funding the planned community motorsports center. This weekend, 63 entries paid $25 each day for a test-and-tune only or $60 per day to test, tune and compete.
“I think what it really means to these racers is a chance to do this, and donate at the same time,” Bodenstadt said.
Brian Shunskis paid his entry fee to be the only snowmachine racer on the asphalt strip this weekend. His Yamaha Apex has wheels on the front skis and a flat, soft rubber covering on the rear to replace the regular track he uses in the winter.
“It’s great,” Shunskis said of having a drag-racing facility locally. “It’s not perfect,” he said, “but anything is better than nothing.”
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.