by: Maralee Cook
Drag racing, off-roading, shooting and archery ranges, bicycle cruises, mountain and fat biking, hunting, snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding: The opportunities for testing the abilities and endurance of humans and machines year-round are endless in Manistee County’s North Woods.
While the county’s Lake Michigan shoreline and its three main rivers get most of the publicity, there’s a whole other world available to adventurous souls in the county’s northeastern interior. Past the peaceful scenery of farms, orchards, lakes and rivers, beyond the stately, towering trees of the Manistee National Forest, excitement and challenge await those who enjoy testing their mettle.
These opportunities have been created by Manistee County area friends and families with passions for these endeavors, while sharing these experiences with area residents and others who come from around the world to visit.
Northern Michigan Dragway
A love for drag racing that began long ago and a ‘Field of Dreams’ attitude with hard work and family dedication have brought the Northern Michigan Dragway (NMD) to where it is today: A sophisticated operation riding a wave of popularity and success greater than at any time in NMD’s history.
Weekends from early May to late September find thousands of race fans in the stands and on the side-lines watching local, state and mid-western racers in 1/8 mile dragstrip Bracket Racing competitions. In everything from street cars to expensive custom-made machines, racers compete for bragging rights and up to several thousand dollars in prize money. The top money winning racer cashed in for over $10,000 last season. Also, the 2015 track record for elapsed time (ET) was set at 4.3 seconds with a whopping top speed of 163.6 mph by local racer Jeremy McCormick of Fountain.
“It’s an exciting experience, yet more intimate than the larger state or national races,” said Brian Ledford, a second generation NMD track manager. “Spectators can walk around the race area, talk to drivers or look at the cars. They can bring their own chairs, tailgate, grill hot dogs or hamburgers.” Races can last well into the wee hours of the morning and a top-notch lighting system has helped the track increase the crowd size by three-fold at night, he added. With many special events for families, many stay for the weekend on the track grounds. Concessions are available at the track during race time.
It all started in the 1960s when Brian’s late uncle Jim got the racing bug and raced an Oldsmobile 442 muscle car at a track on the east side of the state. His love of racing turned into a passion to open the dragway with Brian’s dad Tom, on the family’s 55-acre farm in 1970. The brothers were partners in a logging business, and ran the racetrack on the side, but the track took off right away and soon became a full-time operation. “Dad is still the track owner and makes all the final decisions. He also does the bulk of property maintenance.” Brian’s mom Sharon runs the concession stand and manages the entrance gate. Brian and his brother Wayne grew up around the track and both raced competitively when they were younger. They now manage different aspects of the racetrack operation. Brian manages advertising, public relations and handles track announcing duties. Wayne is in charge of on-track maintenance along with the lighting and timing system.
There are five racing divisions: Juniors (ages 8-16) race go-carts, mini bikes and junior dragsters. Adults: Street Trophy for beginners with street-legal-style race vehicles 8 seconds and slower; Pro Trophy for more advanced and faster entrants, then Brackets I and II for more expert-level and faster competition for larger prizes.
Want to give drag racing a try? “Everybody has shown up at the track for a first-time race. We suggest watching a few races and then entering the Street Trophy Class so they get the hang of it,” Brian said.
Northern Michigan Dragway is located three miles north of Kaleva at 13991 Potter Rd. Visit northernmichigandragway.net, their Facebook page or call 231.362.3439 for a race schedule and more info.