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DIALED IN: Checking in at Elk Creek Dragway, One of the Southeast’s Most Impactful Tracks for Stick-Shift Racing

Virginia’s Elk Creek Dragway not only provides one of the most robust bracket racing schedules in the Southeast with no fewer than 24 point-earning events in 2023, this IHRA-sanctioned dragstrip that sits near the North Carolina-Virginia line can also be credited with a revival of stick-shift racing on a grand scale. 

[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #185, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in Nov/Dec of 2023.]

Track manager Mike Walters remembers the details well. “By 1990, automatic transmissions had all but taken over at the dragstrip, but I knew there were some stick-shift cars in the area that were sitting inside sheds and barns, and I wanted to get those cars out of the moth balls and back to the track,” he says. Walters is a stick-shift racer at heart, and has owned a 1967 Mercury Comet for over 50 years, and even drove the car to high school. 

Elk Creek track manager Mike Walters, who’s also a competitor in the Original Gear Jammers series.

So, at the beginning of the 1990 season, Walters approached then-track manager Dennis Jackson about starting a stick-shift class at Elk Creek. Jackson felt it was a long shot, but agreed to give it a go. By mid-season, the unfortunate writing was on the wall and Jackson pulled the plug on the new series since it was only averaging 5-6 cars per race. But the same day he scrubbed the new class, something extraordinary happened that changed everything. “Dennis and I were standing in the staging lanes and he told me that the whole stick-shift idea wasn’t gonna fly, and they were throwing in the towel,” remembers Walters. 

Jackson barely had the words out of his mouth when suddenly, Walters looked up and saw none other than multi-time IHRA Super Stock world champion Mike Boyles pulling through the gate…and behind him was a whole caravan of stick-shift racers! As it turns out, a huge meet in Bristol had been rained out, and so Boyles and some friends he travelled with decided to make a few turns off the interstate and head to Elk Creek to check out the new stick-shift class. “It was a situation where weather changed the course of history!” Walters laughingly recalls. 

Boyles and other stick-shift racers had been invited early on and knew they had a standing invitation to come to Elk Creek, but most of them were tied up with IHRA’s Super Stock and Modified classes and were on tour extensively. After that one fateful Saturday, though, stick-shift racers in the local area began taking notice of what Elk Creek was doing, and a few more cars started showing up, and after that, a few more racers began knocking the dust off their cars and it just continued to catch on. Then it began to branch off into other groups and spread. 

Among the most well-known stick-shift racers in the country is a traveling group known as the Classic Gear Jammers, which can be directly traced back to Elk Creek in 1990. “Since then, it’s never really stopped growing!” says Walters. “We had a total of 38 gear-jammers last Saturday, including six new ones!” he adds. 

The program that runs exclusively at Elk Creek is known as the Original Gear Jammers, and they have eight events on the 2023 schedule. There’s always a bracket race held on the same Saturday, which brings the car count to around 180 entries at some meets. “Bracket racing is here to stay and it’s what keeps the track open, so we have 24 scheduled bracket point races this year.” 

Additionally, Elk Creek also has a points series for index racers. “If the weather cooperates, we will start as early as March with test-and-tune, and after that we’re racing practically every weekend.” 

The Killer Street series was also booked in six times this season and features small-tire, heads-up racing. Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends are both heavily attended with big-money bracket events, with Memorial Day paying $3,000 to win in all three regular classes: Super Pro, Footbrake, and Jr. Dragster. “By October we’re winding down, and while our regular points season is over by then, we’ve traditionally had some great stick-shift races nearing the end of the season.” 

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The last stick-shift race of the year at Elk Creek promised to be one to remember, with extra-large payouts. “Those guys have gotten together to increase the purse for that season-finale race. It was originally going to be $3,000 to win, but it’s now reached $5,000 to win and may even keep growing!” 

The final events of the 2023 season included a two-day event known as Street 2 Strip, as well as a final index event to close out October. “It’s been a great year, and we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our program as well as the facility itself,” concludes Walters.

Josh Barczy, winner of the Original Gear Jammers class

Hannah Blevins, the points leader in Footbrake. She’s scored back-to-back wins this season.

 

 

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