Thornhill Dragway Park: Action Photos From This Historic Strip That NEEDS YOUR HELP!

Thornhill Dragway Park: Action Photos From This Historic Strip That NEEDS YOUR HELP!

(Words and photos by Doug Gregory) – Thornhill Dragway Park is a 1⁄4 mile strip near the Licking River in Kenton county, North-central Kentucky. The track history is difficult to chase down, but by most reports it has been in operation since 1953, which is earlier than most any other track in the country. According to the information I found the track started life as a dirt airstrip used during prohibition by bootleggers hauling hooch into and out of Cincinnati. After Feds shut the operation down they handed the seized land over to the township of Kenton. The track was unpaved for several years until the operator paved the first 100 or so feet so the cars could get moving a bit faster. Most had been using snow tires to get grip on the dirt strip.

Eventually the whole track was paved and used Chrondeck timing clocks until late in the century. Finding race reports and photos from past years has been very difficult except in the case of a Famous Top Fuel motorcycle pilot, the late Elmer Trett. Apparently Trett got his start at Thornhill and always considered it one of his favorite tracks. He suffered one of his most injurious mishaps there when he crashed his bike ‘Daddy Zeus’ and crushed his right wrist. For most of the track’s life airplanes were kept on the premises as it had maintained some air traffic since it’s creation. There are tales of planes flying in during a race and the starter would hold the cars at the line and let the plane land before resuming the event. There is a lake nearby (Thorn Hill Lake) where camping and fishing are popular. Some families come and make a weekend of it. The track is a bit out of the way and I believe that has preserved it to some level and also hindered it. The track operators don’t have a million dollar trust fund or billionaire backers looking to expand the property. They are just common folks trying to preserve the legacy of the track and keep it operating for future generations to enjoy. In these times of small tracks and airfields closing due to neighbor complaints and finances it seems important to try and assist these folks in their struggle to keep it alive.
 The track has been operating under an injunction imposed by a neighboring county (Campbell) that restricts racing operations to only Saturdays from 6pm to Midnight. Supposedly the injunction was granted by Campbell County circuit court in 1973 at the request of folks living on the East side of the Licking River. The track is located on the West side of the river in Kenton County. It’s fairly safe to say the track operated for nearly 20 years without an injunction and somehow a neighboring county managed to grant one that is enforced on the other side of the river. Track operators have somehow managed to squeak by on only 6 hours of racing a week, but when there is a rainout or a conflicting event taking racers/spectators away they have trouble just covering the bills. With increased operating costs and competition with other tracks (i.e. Edgewater) to draw racers in, the margin for profit and improvements is lean. Racer entry has to be curtailed so that the program can complete before Midnight or else the law comes out to shut things down.
The track operators have asked to be heard by Campbell county officials, but my latest info says that hasn’t been granted. I’m suggesting the site meets criteria for historical, industrial, and cultural significance. State and Federal officials should consider granting the track a spot on registers of historical places in order to protect its status and provide it a foothold to make an argument for expanded operations. The economic impact of a track such as this could be significant to the local economy through not only taxes, but the expected tourism brought by the history and legacy of such an establishment. A Kentucky drag racing museum could even sprout up and further increase the impact and make Thornhill Dragway Park a must-do gearhead destination.I visited the track on an evening when nostalgia cars were to be featured, prefaced by a car show, and augmented with the regular bracket program. Though the car show was a bit small (conflicting benefit event nearby), there was plenty things too see. Several members of the Straight Axle Mafia showed up with a healthy herd of gasser-type rides and a few of them having real history. These guys put on a good show and ran hard with all the other vintage rides in attendance.
One ride, ‘Falcon Around,’ was a barn find with a real racing history and the owner stuff his 289/4sp combo from a previous race car in the beast. This thing left the line hanging the front wheels about 2ft on every pass and the sound of crisp shifts could be heard as it thundered down the old track. Danny’s Rod Shop brought their Ford Altered coupe and a few friends along with them. The track’s regular bracket cars are mostly a step back in time and sets it apart from a lot of other tracks I’ve been to. There were THREE tubbed Pintos running. I haven’t seen a Pinto running brackets in a long time! Most cars (other than the many nostalgia cars) were older muscle and the accepted econo-boxes converted to big V-8 power. Missing was the throng of late-model muscle, pony, and tuner cars that seem to clog the staging lanes at some tracks. One interesting bracket car was a white Plymouth Duster called ‘Instant Karma’.
According to the owner he just finished the car last year. It is a duplicate to a car belonging to a local family and raced at area tracks for many years. The original is apparently in storage and several pictures were taken to ensure the recreation would be correct. After the white base was laid down the original sign painter that lettered the 1st did the re-pop as well to further make this an authentic replica. It’s powered by an Indy-headed 440 and runs low 6s in the 1/8th. The owner also has a ’70 Road Runner street car that turns high 11s in the 1/4mi. Mopar madness.
Another ride that got my attention was a ’40 Chevy coupe that appeared to be normal street rod fare upon first glimpse, but more was hiding underneath. It has a potent small-block and steamrollers in the back. It came in towing a trailer with slicks stacked on it. The gumballs were swapped on and this thing hooked up and went quick for something that seemed so sedate. Sweet ride for Drag week maybe….
 My apologies for breaking one of the rules for track photography – always use your tripod for action shots, especially when it starts to get dark. Some turned out good and some didn’t and the tripod appears to be the difference. I used it some, but my old knees kept me moving so much while crouched next to the guardrail that the tripod ended up being more of a problem than it seemed worth.
button” text=”CLICK HERE to see an awesome gallery of action from Thornhill Dragway Park in Kentucky – Support Your Local Dragstrip!”]

Thornhill Dragway Park

14114 Kenton Station Rd., Morning View, Kentucky, 41063

Track manager – Gary Koeninger

57 chevy


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