My Dad and his two brothers built Onondaga Dragway. I was just a kid, but we helped stretch all that fence. They took on a partner later, Dewey Ketner, but he wasn't there long. We lived at the track and my brother and me had 80 acres of papers to pick up every week and help keep mowed. My Dad Ken, could spot stuff growing on a fence at 500 feet. We even helped build the Bleachers. At about 9 my brother and me would hang a box with a rope around our necks and sell Drag News, Drag Rules, Pop and Popcorn and get a nickle for each one we sold. After the races before we picked up the papers we would go pick up all the pop bottles for the deposit and go look under the bleachers for money. There was always money under there. Those were great days, so much easier than the hectic pace of life today. Eventually I worked every job there except Classification.
Someone said there was no safety inspection. Every car was checked. The Stockers and Pro Stockers had to go through Classification and they had a guy, I think it was Jim Hughes, walk around the Top Fuel Pit area and check each car. If a protest arose, which they did all the time, I saw them tear motors down to make sure they were within specs. I was the 13 year old kid that got to put the numbers in the Hat and let Dick LaHaie and Don Gartlits and ALL the fuel Dragster Drivers pull a number to see what order they ran. My dad would tell me to go tell Dick LaHaie, if he couldn't get there in 10 minutes, he was done. Needless to say they didn't like hearing it from a 13 year old! I would have to shut off the Staging Lanes after Time Trials too. A little kid, making the drivers turn around and go back. They didn't like that much.
Someone said they had all the top names in Drag Racing and that's true. They had Art A had Art Arfons and several other Jet Cars run there too. One night they had two Jet cars run side by side and on the 1st run, they blew the Dog houses away that were covering the lights for the clocks on the starting line. On the second run my Dad and Uncle Harold Sears each held on to a doghouse so they wouldn't blow away. They didn't blow away but both of them came away with singed eyebrows and hair and no hair on their arms. I always hung around the trailer where they paid the drivers and really got to know a lot of the Big Names in drag racing. It was a nice atmosphere and Drag Racers are generally a bunch of really decent folks.
I also remember Al Exstrand in the "Outlaw", The Terrifying Toranado with 4 engines, The Hemi Under Glass, the Little Red Wagon and other wheelie Cars and on and on, they always had Big Names, back then they had to pay those Big Names like Gartlits $600-$1000 just to show. If it rained, they got paid and never took the car off the trailer. They always had family stuff too. They had penny scrambles for the kids, cars jumping over cars on the track and doing T-Bones. They had a guy explode in a woodbox on the starting line. They always had Onondaga Dragway Bikini Contests and would name the winner Miss Onondaga Dragway of the year.
They even had a streaker one Saturday night, funny, nobody caught her before she ran the whole quarter mile. My Uncle Harold Sears, who passed away about 10 years ago, being the nice guy he was, took his Jeep down to the end of the track to give her a ride back. As I recall it took quite awhile for him to get back to announcing that night. My Dad and Harold did the announcing mostly. Then they hired John Lumberg to announce. When they first started the track was 1850 feet long, around 1961. Needless to say if they race 1320 feet, that's a pretty short shutdown.
They had sand traps at the end that they kept worked up and soft. Later they bought more property, the guy had them over a barrel and sold the land in the 60s for like $10,000 an acre so they could lengthen the track. They had a couple rollovers, or one would cross the center line and hit the other car and a guy broke his collarbone on a motorcycle but, nobody ever got hurt bad there. The size of crowds went down and I think the family was just tired of it, so they sold it to a guy named Sangster. He was going to have a Woodstock type event there, took down the fences and the lights and went broke before he saw his dream come true. The lights that lit the track are still in use today at the Mason High School Football Field. They had rent a cops for security, I remember this one chubby little security guy took his club out at a guy. The guy took the club away from him. That's the fastest I ever saw a big guy run.
Special thanks to RG for info and pics!
The dragstrip is on Bellevue Rd., between Onondaga and Leslie. Its a couple of miles west of US-127 at the Leslie exit. I don't have an exact address. It was open from 1962 thru 1978. The site is now used by a farmer. Back around 1985, there was a big movement to try and get the strip reopened. It was a big deal around here, alot of excitement.
I went a "rally" at the track where they were trying to drum up support for the idea. I remember tons of people showed up, the neighbors weren't happy. The old timing tower was still there then, long gone now. I also went with a buddy to a public hearing at the Onondaga town hall on the deal, and we got our picture in the newspaper. The people who lived near the track were pissed! They were against it reopening all the way, and came out in full force.
The effort was doomed that night I think. I guess it really was a "outlaw" track, it sounded like quite a rowdy place back then, from what the neighbors said that night. I remember complaints of cars screaming up and down Bellevue road, and their dishes getting rattled out of the cupboards on Sunday mornings!
The ongoing saga of the track was continuing as of 2021. The track even had some events over the last few years but keeps running into resistance from some in the local community.