Ona Speedway marks its 50th anniversary with full slate of racing this season
ONA -- To twist an old rockabilly quote, there's going to be a whole lotta racing going on.
A former stock car driver at Columbus Motor Speedway and a rockabilly guitar slinger who has traveled the world playing music, Dave Hughes is thrilled to be running a full slate of racing action at Ona Speedway, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this season.
"We are going to have six classes of cars so there's going to be a whole lotta racing going on," Hughes said. "Bring your ear plugs, because it is going to be rocking. When I used to be in a band, they'd say I was playing too loud -- no, now I am playing too loud. Louder, louder, louder."
The Welsh native who spent two decades with Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Sleepy LaBeef before sailing solo, is all fired up to bring a new rock 'n' roll energy to the historic speedway whose season kicks off Saturday.
With a full slate of cars (everything from U-cars, street stock, classics, late models and sport modified) Hughes Motorsports will begin hosting racing again May 25, and try to bring back some of that fervor that birthed the track back in 1960s when the Mountaineer 300 was on the NASCAR circuit, drawing up to 16,000 fans to see drivers like the now legendary Richard Petty.
Gates open at 5 p.m. and racing begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 25, for the opening night, which is the Vernon Craddock Memorial Race Night. Craddock, who passed away in 2012, was a Korean war veteran, real estate developer and big racing fan who hardly missed a race at Ona.
Grandstand admission is $10, $7 for children age 11-17 and free for kids ages 10 and younger. Pit admission is $20 and $18 for children ages 11-17. All-Access passes (grandstand and pits) are $30, $20 for children ages 11-17 and free for kids ages 10 and younger.
Hughes said honoring one of the track's big supporters is a great way to kick off this celebratory and historic season for the track.
"He loved the U Cars. That was his thing, and he was a big supporter of the track and a big supporter of the drivers," Hughes said. "Every Saturday night he would be at the track. He loved it. We appreciate the fans because it is the people that make it happen, and the drivers, of course."
Hughes said after he became the new manager of the track in December, he's been meeting with all the drivers of each class: Any Car (6 cylinder), U-Car (4 cylinder), Hobby Stock, Classic Car, Elite Modified, Late Model and Sport Mod, to make sure everyone got a say on how the track is run.
"I had a meeting with all of the drivers in their own class and I started with rule No. 1 'what do you think of this' and we talked about it and found middle ground and voted on the rules," Hughes said. "What made me feel good is that every rule has been voted on by the drivers. I believe in democracy and that everyone should have a say. At the end of the day we want them to be comfortable and to put on a good show. Being a musician and performer I can relate to the drivers. They need to feel comfortable and to feel like they have a shot to win it."
Hughes said the veteran drivers such as Terry and Jerry Templeton and Jerry Brumfield have been invaluable as they and a handful of volunteers have dug in and tried to get the aging 7/16-mile asphalt oval track in race shape.
They've also gotten donations, including a stage for victory circle donated by the West Virginia National Guard.
"It's amazing what a lawnmower and 50 gallons of paint can do," Hughes said with a chuckle. "The thing that is really nice is that the guys are coming to the track on Saturdays and sometimes during the week and are mowing and fixing the buildings and they are using their personal time to come out and help me. They are very kind, and I love it."
Indeed in the off-season, Hughes said they've had to do everything from mowing, painting, replacing roofs and power washing seats, to patching potholes and pouring concrete to fix parts of the track.
He said fixing the track should help the racing action. They've already seen that in weekend practice laps where drivers are able to use more of the track.
"We cleaned the track off and some of the drivers are finding in NASCAR terms, a new groove, using that outside edge that they couldn't run in before," Hughes said. "Now they can run up there and go three wide."
Hughes said they'll be racing every other Saturday and also have some special events and extra dates as well.
Hughes' old employer, Rockabilly Hall of Famer Sleepy LaBeef, will be rolling in for a concert on Saturday, June 8 during a race night.
The ARCA Series Truck Racing will hit the track on June 15 featuring Charleston resident Bobby Dale Earnhardt, the oldest grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt. In fact, the young Earnhardt has already been out at the track practicing and checking it out.
The Super Cup Series is coming in on July 13, and the track will also be having a special Elvis Night on Aug. 17 (the day after the anniversary of his death, Aug. 16, 1977).
Hughes, who said they are looking for a few more sponsors of race nights toward the end of this season, said he can't say thanks enough to folks such as Steve Chapman, Jake Sharp (at the Cabell Huntington CVB) and other folks who've helped him get the track ready to rock and roll.
"People like Jake and Steve have just rolled up their sleeves and have gone out of their way to help me and I'm so grateful," Hughes said. "As hectic as it is, and I've been starting at 4 or 5 in the morning and running until 10 or 11 at night, I love it and don't mind doing it. I'm going to fight for that place. I think we're going to have a really good year and I will do what I gotta do."