When the late Leo Barnaby couldn’t answer the call to stage and John Schroeder was awarded the win November 23, 2003, for the inaugural Outlaw Ultra Quick 8 race at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, one of the most significant independent drag races in the world was taking root. By the next year the event became known by its much catchier and more familiar Shakedown at E-Town moniker and already was well on its way to becoming an end-of-the-year staple for the fast doorslammer crowd.
The brainchild of racer and newly minted promoter David Hance, the Shakedown grew from feelings of frustration over what several Northeastern Outlaw 10.5 racers of the day considered overly restrictive rules at their local tracks. There had to be an end-all, be-all showdown, and Hance made it a reality. Since its inception, the annual event has provided enough historic moments and record-setting runs to keep writer’s fingers typing throughout the holiday season. Amongst a slew of barrier-breaking runs, there are a few that stand out, like in 2004 when Tim Lynch made the world’s first six-second pass on 10.5W tires with a then-astounding 6.966 seconds at 207.43 mph with his twin-turbocharged Outlaw 10.5 Mustang. Hance quite rightly called it “the shot heard round the outlaw world,” as it elevated not only Lynch as a hero driver, but the Shakedown as an event capable of delivering big performances and big thrills, too.
Then in 2008 when Jim Halsey made the first five-second pass in nitrous doorslammer history, going 5.998 at 240.58 mph to take the qualifying lead. Halsey proved it was no fluke, too, staying in the fives throughout eliminations with a best of 5.958 in the semis and nearly duplicating the run with a 5.959-seconds win at a new record 240.72 mph in the final over Rickie Smith. “I won the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Nationals and this feels 10 times better than that,” Halsey declared at the time.
After Hance failed to renegotiate a more favorable arrangement with Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, an effort was made to keep the event alive at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida, before throwing in the towel after the race in 2012. The namesake and format was ultimately packaged up and taken over by the team at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, where the Bader family spent six years hosting the event, but fought numerous years of bad weather that put them behind the eight ball before the ball ever began to roll. After yet another weather-stricken event in 2018, the Bader family decided that they were ready to hang it up for their time with the event.
In 2019, the event took on new life as a passion project for new Virginia Motorsports Park track operator Tommy Franklin and facility general manager Tyler Crossnoe. The duo were looking for an event that could serve as the track’s flagship happening alongside a stop by the NHRA, PDRA and various other sanctions/series.
Since then, The Shakedown Nationals (as it is now known) has carried on the event’s rich tradition of close side-by-side competition, record-setting performances and big payouts outside Richmond, Virginia. Initially, the event was built around both Radial vs. the World and Pro Mod as headlining attractions, but in 2021 the event featured big tire, wheelie-bar equipped doorslammers as the main event, and will again in 2022 with $25,000 up for grabs in Hoosier Racing Tire Pro Modified presented by M&M Transmission and Pro Line Racing. Other eliminators include, Menscer Motorsports Pro Street, Limited Drag Radial, X275, Ultra Street, MPC Real Street presented by Callies, Limited 235, GBody Mafia All Steel All Glass 16 Car Shootout, Top Sportsman, 5.90 Index, Super Pro Super 64 Shootout and P2 Contracting Jr. Dragster 32 Car Shootout.
Photos from the Drag Illustrated Archives, including photos from John Fore III, Kyle Kramer, Roger Richards, James Sisk, Chris Sears.