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Start your engines! Mountaintop racing may finally become area’s new recreational opportunity

Bruce Justice (Mingo Messenger) Jun 03, 2022

The mountaintops of northern Mingo County will soon be filled with thundering reverberations as the sounds of race car engines echo from peaks to valleys. Yes, it is finally official. The road to the Twin Branch Drag Strip is now a public road and races can finally begin.

It is a project that has been almost 10 years in the making and the road – yes, the literal road – to the raceway has been froth with one obstacle after another. Plans have been made. Plans have changed. Compromises have been forged. Then those same compromises would fail. Property ownership changed … and changed … and changed yet again. Regulatory agencies created a proverbial mountain of red tape higher than the actual one upon which the races will be held.

In the past couple of months, all of the opposing factors have aligned and all the obstacles have been removed. The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority announced during its May 19 meeting the West Virginia Department of Highways officially adopted the road leading to the racetrack into the state road system. They repaved it; upgraded drainage; erected road signage. That was the final step required.

Now, there are a few things the drag strip facilities management company needs to address such as concrete barriers required by its insurance provider, weed and vegetation management, and a few repairs to the track. Florida-based drag strip owner and operator Pete Scalzo, who will supervise the track, has told the MCRA that it will also take him approximately a month to get the lighting and timing systems up and running, along with the maintenance work, before the first race can be held.

The Redevelopment Authority is estimating that races may begin by the Fourth of July. Racing on top of the mountain would be a great way to celebrate the holiday this summer. So many times, we have heard elected officials and politicians jump on the bandwagon proclaiming: “We are going to have races by Spring.” “The racetrack will be open this summer.” “We will have racing by fall.

The only thing that came from those declarations were broken promises – season after season; year after year. Now, it seems everyone’s aspirations are finally becoming reality. We know that Mr. Scalzo has been waiting for this moment for a long time and has invested heavily in the drag strip. Despite this, we hope that he does not drag his feet in retaliation.

He is a businessman. He understands that after all this time his investments need to start yielding profits. Because of this, maybe he will push forward with the utmost urgency.

MCRA Executive Director Leasha Johnson praised many people for their continued work in getting obstacles faced from the release of mine reclamation permits, the Department of Highways, the Department of Environmental Protection and other sources. She thanked DEP Secretary Harold Ward, Department of Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston, the Office of the Governor, the owner of Coal-Mac, the project engineer and the Department of Natural Resource just to name a few.

However, in her lengthy list of accolades, there is one person who was omitted from the congratulations. We want to complete that list.

Thank you, Leasha Johnson. This project has overlapped the administrations of several regulatory agencies, the four different coal operations and even the death of former MCRA Executive Director Mike Whitt. Yet, Ms. Johnson has been the calm and logical voice of reason that has kept all the powers that be at the table. She and her staff have faced one setback after another with dignity and grace. They persevered. They followed up. They knocked on one closed door after another until they opened. They were relentless.

Now, they are successful.

The citizens of Mingo County are excited about the Twin Branch Drag Strip. Racing in the summer will be a tremendous experience for them and for expanding our tourism base. Hopefully, we won’t be disappointed again.


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