- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
When Royce Miller and his family took over Maryland International Raceway in 1999, spectators waiting to enter the race spilled out of the entrance onto the shoulder of Route 234 in Budd’s Creek. This created a traffic hazard to motorists on that busy stretch of highway, Miller noted. In the 13 years that have followed, Miller has overseen the implementation of almost $5 million in improvements to the 150-acre raceway — one of five in the state — the foremost of which was addressing the overflow traffic.
“One of the first things we did was to redirect the flow of traffic coming into the facility,” Miller said. “By adding more lanes and making room for the spectators entering the race track, we alleviated the problem with traffic having to sit out on the highway.”
MIR officials also enlarged and replaced the bleachers at the raceway, changing out the old peeling and splintering wood seats for new aluminum ones. They’ve upgraded the launch site, reconditioning everything from the signals to the infield. There’s a new press box and spectator suites, a new facility for housing the ambulance and fire truck (MIR has its own safety equipment and crews), and additional parking has been provided.
Among other improvements is a state of the art computer system that allows for times and statistics to be available on an immediate basis. Reporters covering races can access scores and file their stories directly from the press booth.
“By the time the last driver has completed his run, he can be packed up and heading out and can access what his time was before he heads out on the road,” Miller explained.
Maryland International Raceway has 108 race days from March through November, including four Wednesday night races.
“We don’t run Mother’s Day or Easter,” Miller said. “We don’t compete against the bunny or mommy.”
On certain Friday nights, the raceway hosts Midnight Madness events for street cars (“It’s illegal for them to race in the streets, but they can come here and race legally and get it out their system,” Miller noted). The track also hosts many national events.
“At some events, we can get up to 10,000 people,” Miller noted.
And records are broken.
Steve Drummond set a new speed record during the 34th annual Mountain Motor Nationals at Maryland International Raceway May 12. Drummond registered a 6.008 second/254.58 mph quarter mile run in the final round of eliminations for the Blower Pro-Mod class.
“We’ve had some records broken three weeks in a row,” he said. “Of course, there are a lot of different classes, different categories. It’s the natural progression of racing.”
Drag racing is not a cheap sport. Miller said that MIR hosts some classes where the engines alone cost $75,000 each.
“Most of them will have one engine in the car and two in the trailer,” he said.
Even the chassis without the motors can run $100,000-$150,000.
“We have classes for every budget,” Miller noted.
He said one of the more interesting classes at the facility is for 8-17 year olds who race in half-scale dragsters. He said they can reach speeds up to 82-82 miles per hour.
“That’s pretty good for a 12 year old,” he said.
Miller added, “We have a lot of families. This class probably has the highest percentage of female drivers in any class we have. When the winners get their picture taken their whole family is there. It’s a neat class. A lot of families get involved.”
The renovations begun in 2002 have included everything from expanding the pit areas to a new concession stand where Bunny Burkett’s 1985 Laser Funny Car is perched above the window where patrons buy their food and drinks. To date, Burkett is the first and only female to win an International Hot Rod Association championship, a National Hot Rod Association national event and a NHRA division championship. In 2002 they added 10,000 seats (a recent event reportedly drew 20,000 fans). This year the race track added a second ambulance and fire truck.
“We own our own equipment,” he said. “We’ll have one at the starting line and one on the top end of the track so that we have safety on both ends.”
Miller said all of their promotional materials, marketing and design are all done “in house,” along with constant upgrades to their website. Their Facebook page as of April had 11,408 fans. He added that track officials constantly monitor the weather, the one factor that can buffalo a race, but they maintain a 24-hour hotline (301-884-RACE) so racing fans can know before they leave their homes if the race is on.
“The only thing we don’t do is the printing,” Miller pointed out.
He called their staff a “lean, mean flying machine.”
“We have three full time maintenance employees and during race days we have 120 part-time employees,” he said. “We’re pretty self-sufficient. It’s a pretty cost-effective operation. We have a jet engine out of a military jet that we use to dry the track after a rain, we own our own paving equipment. … We even have our own trash truck. After the race is run and trash collected, it takes it right to the landfill. Our restrooms have attendants to help keep things clean and neat.”
As for the race, why people come to Maryland International Raceway, is because people still marvel at super fast cars.
“Some of these cars run over 300 miles per hour,” he said.
Their annual attendance is approximately 200,000.
“I will say, St. Mary’s County has been wonderful to us,” Miller said. “They realize we’re a tourist entity, we attract fans from all over the country, young and old alike. The tourism office and the county commissioners have been great. I think they realize when people come here to the races, they’re also visiting local restaurants, going to local hotels. … all of those factors are not only for the enjoyment and safety of racing, but our goal is to get the event done as quickly as possible and to be good neighbors in the process.”