Alabama’s Montgomery International Dragway is a facility that’s undergone a host of improvements in recent years, and brand-new track owner Brad Wheeler plans to continue making lots of updates to this quarter-mile facility located in the state’s capital city.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #185, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in Nov/Dec of 2023.]
Wheeler purchased this popular dragway from Glenn Smith on July 1, 2023, taking over as hands-on track manager later in the month. “Glenn had already sunk a ton of money into the track with things like LED lights, new scoreboards, and a reconcreted racing surface, as well as the shop beside the tower that can house multiple race cars and equipment,” says Wheeler.
Soon after taking over, Wheeler added to the improvements by installing a brand-new Accutime Timing System and began a project of renovating the suites located in the tower. Wheeler’s near-term plans include updating the pits. “This place was built in the mid-1990s, back when we had 24-foot enclosed trailers and a pick-up. These days we’ve got 90 foot worth of rig to park, so the pit spots are a little short for today’s rigs,” he says.
Wheeler also wants to someday equip Montgomery’s pits with showers and even a parts store as a convenience for the racers. “I want to concentrate on making improvements that make it easier for the racers to race,” he says. “They can choose anywhere they want to go race – I want to give them a reason to come here.” There’s also plans to install several lifts in the spacious shop in case a racer needed to lift a vehicle to put in a converter or perform other tasks. Therefore, Wheeler says he wants to offer a facility that will accommodate those needs.
Wheeler comes from a racing family and practically grew up at the track, racing at many facilities across his native Georgia and surrounding areas. As a racer, he developed a particular interest in the track he now owns. “Prior to buying the track, I’d race in just about every event they had here!” he says. From his roots as a competitor, he brought with him the things that are important to racers, and in addition to convenience, he also has strong convictions about a guaranteed purse for all events he holds at Montgomery, and says he won’t do a race without a guarantee in place.
As with any new adventure, Wheeler says he’s learning a lot about the “other side” of racing as a track owner. “Prior to buying this place, all I ever did was go down it!” he laughs. “Sure, it takes some of the fun out of racing, and I’ve only gone down the track twice (three months after buying it) but I’m enjoying the new experience. I knew that buying this track was gonna be a big animal, and it didn’t disappoint!” he laughs.
And while his expectations lined up pretty closely with reality, the one thing that truly shocked him was just how much Alabama football affects his attendance. “They’re ate up with football…even on the high school level!”
Wheeler works through all the challenges and embraces the positive aspects of his location, namely the weather. Central Alabama is favorable for near year-round racing, with short and mild winters. “We’re planning to do some more concrete work in December or early January and hope to hold our first bracket race in February,” he says.
Wheeler also plans to embrace the diversity of all things drag racing, holding many events at Montgomery. “We want to have all kind of racing here, including Pro Mod, radial, small tire, and also grudge racing, since a lot of that goes on here in Alabama. I’ve never been around a lot of this stuff, so it’s a learning curve for me,” he admits.
Wheeler says he’s also not limiting the facility to just racing. “We want to do some concerts here as well,” he notes. “We also host an event called Pik Nik/Freak Nik, where people come in and bring their family and also bring their grills and have cooking competitions, along with cars and trucks on display. We hosted one of these events this year and we feel as though we have something to build on, so we’ll probably do it again and throw in some racing with it.”
Wheeler also signed on with WDRA in 2023, and is gearing up for a big season in 2024. “We’re gonna have the Bracket Finals here, along with the World Finals and also the Jr. Dragster Finals, so we’re looking forward to a lot of great things happening here next season,” Wheeler concludes.