COMP STANDOUT FRANK ARAGONA STRUGGLES WITH E-TOWN SHUTDOWN NEWS
Frank Aragona Jr. was taking Old Bridge Township Raceway Park’s announcement to heart.
“I haven’t slept all night, and I’ve been kind of sick all day over this news,” the 2007 national Competition Eliminator champion said Wednesday following the Napp Family’s prepared public statement that it is discontinuing drag racing at the historic Englishtown, N.J., facility.
“It’s terrible news. I was basically raised at that track. My mother has pictures of me, holding me when I was a baby there, when she was with my dad racing,” Aragona said. “I got my [competition] license there. My kids got their Junior [Dragster] license there. They raced Juniors there. I go there probably a dozen times a year for drag racing, and I usually go to other events there, like Monster Trucks and stuff, with my family. It’s really sad. It’s really sad for the New York – New Jersey area to lose that place.”
His story is not unlike that of many other racers – except for the fact his drag racing dictated where he housed his family.
So attached to Raceway Park is the Queens, N.Y., native that he moved his family to New Jersey, first to Old Bridge, then to their current home at Freehold – both just 10 minutes from the racetrack. His family’s involvement at the Northeast’s premier dragstrip already had evolved into a third-generation affair. And the Aragonas had been spreading the gospel of drag racing to the previously unexposed.
But then the Napps’ bombshell rocked his world – and that of his fellow New Jersey / New York drag-racing colleagues.
“My son Junior drag races, and his friends and family have come to Raceway Park to see him race,” Aragona said. “One of them was going to buy his son a Jr. Dragster for this year, but he isn’t going to do it now, because he’s not going to travel a couple of hours away to the nearest track. But this was in the area. You go 15-20 minutes and they have a great Junior program with a separate track. Those kids all come up to bigger cars. The sport of drag racing needs the younger generation. This is going to have a huge impact on that.”
Moreover, Aragona said he worried about everyone connected to the sport in the upper eastern seaboard.
“I can’t imagine the chassis shops, engine shops, and speed shops in the New York and Central Jersey area not having a huge impact from this. It’s bad all around,” he said.
Street racing, he feared, could become a problem again without the influence of longtime-active Raceway Park.
“When my dad was a kid, street racing was big, and the track was built to get the kids off the street and have a safe place to race. It did that,” Aragona said. “And there’s a lot of kids today that go there with their import cars on Wednesday nights, Friday nights and Sundays and Saturdays. Now where are they going to go? All five boroughs of New York City and all of Long Island don’t have a place to go anywhere close now. Minimum, they have to travel three to four hours to a racetrack, and you’re not going to do that on a Wednesday night. Three to four hours one way? You’re not going to do that on a Friday night after work.”
Reigning and four-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Eddie Krawiec, who worked for 18 years at Raceway Park before his bike-racing career took off with Vance & Hines, underscored Aragona’s concerns.
Krawiec said, “New Jersey is not ready for the amount of street racing that is going to happen.
“The generation of kids nowadays, they’re not the gearheads who go out to the track. They see what’s going on on TV. They see these trends. They see what they think is cool. It’s an interesting evolution that’s going on now. I want to say the ‘Internet babies’ are very smart, very media-savvy, and they’re very into social media, They like that side of it. It’s not like the good old days, where you used to take your wife and go out to the racetrack,” he said.
“All the dragstrips ought to take notice.”
Aragona recognized the exposure value to NHRA to have a strong presence in the mega-metroplex.
“I think it’s an important market to be in,” he said, unsure if the situation ever will find a solution to rising costs, unsuitable locations, and racing-unfriendly neighbors.
Talk of a racetrack on Long Island has been a topic for several years. But Aragona indicated he isn’t going to be holding his breath.
“There’s been rumors for many, many years but nothing has ever panned out,” he said. “It’s another area the residents really don’t want it and it’s always trouble. I believe that rumor less than I believed this rumor, and now this rumor has come to fruition. You don’t know what to believe anymore.”
He knows what he believes, though: “Some things in life can’t always be about money. People’s greed and selfishness take over. When that track was built by the Napp brothers, they thought about more than money. Yes, they thought about making money, too, but at the same time also providing a place for people to race and get off the street. It seems like that’s all gone out the window now. It’s just about making a dollar.
“I’m sure the things that have happened through the years, lawsuits and everything, have taken the wind out of their sails,” Aragona said. “But you can’t let that stop you. You have to think of the overall picture. I don’t know the whole story, the ins and outs or the people involved in it intimately, but it’s a devastating blow to the drag-racing community in our area.”
No matter what, this past week’s disturbing developments can’t rob Aragona of his one precious memory from Raceway Park.
“I’ve had success there. I’ve raced at the NHRA races there and divisional races there since 1995, and I wasn’t able to win the national event. Last year, I was able to win the national event in Competition Eliminator. I guess God was looking down on me, because maybe He knew it was going to be the last one there,” Aragona said. “After the race, I got on the bike and drove around the track after it was all pretty much empty – with my son and the trophy. It was an amazing memory. Me and him kind of soaked up the win and finally being able to win the national event. And now it’s going to mean even much more, that picture.”