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First road course in NJ about to open

by Mark J. Cipolloni
Thursday, May 22, 2008


Having grown up in New Jersey since the 1950s I have seen a number of race tracks come and go, including the 1-mile Trenton Speedway (widened to 1.5-miles in 1969) the Meadowlands temporary circuit around Giants Stadium, and a host of small dirt and paved 1/2-mile ovals.  Since the demise of the Trenton Speedway in the '70s, for the most part big-time motorsports never took root in NJ, perhaps because there never was a proper race facility built to foster such a growth.  That was until now.

In two months race-starved Jerseyites will get not one, but two new road courses at the New Jersey Motorsports Park outside the southern NJ town of Millville.

Big-time Racing in New Jersey has a long but fragmented history

Aerial view of Trenton Speedway after it was lengthened from 1.0 to 1.5-miles in 1969.
Originally a dirt oval in 1946, and paved in 1957,  Trenton Speedway hosted IndyCar races for many years and was traditionally the last stop on the USAC Championship Trail in April before the month of May and the Indy 500.  In 1969 NASCAR brought its Winston Cup Series (Called Grand National Division back then) to Trenton.  The Meadowlands hosted Indy Cars on a Mickey Mouse temporary circuit that was doomed to fail from the outset.  Other than that, New Jerseyans had to venture to nearby Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, Dover's Monster Mile in Delaware or Watkins Glen in upstate New York to catch top-level motorsports.

Mario Andretti won the last-ever USAC Indy Car race at Trenton (Trenton 150) in 1978 in this Penske car.
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1
The brainchild of commercial property developer Harvey Siegel and Lee Brahin, the New Jersey Motorsports Park is somewhat similar to its sister Virginia International Raceway (VIR) which Siegel also has a 50% ownership position.  Merrill Lynch is also a major investor in this project.

Originally a NASCAR oval track was proposed for this site but opposition killed that project.  This time the city and the locals are 100%  behind this project.  Why?  Because with two road courses this facility will provide a lot more job opportunities in a somewhat depressed job market than just a NASCAR oval would.

Grand-Am, ARCA and Atlantics will race on Thunderbolt later this year
Why two road courses at one facility?  "Well originally it was going to be one long 3 to 4-mile road course," said Ken Grammer, the facilities Managing Director.  "However, early on it was determined that the facility can maximize revenue almost year-round by renting out two track simultaneously."

The signature 14 turn 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway and the 10 turn 1.9-mile Lightening Raceway can operate completely independent from one another and with 36 million people living within a 150-mile radius the demand is high to rent the facility.  In fact the track rental days are already 91% booked when it opens in July and through the remainder of this year.

When completed, New Jersey Motorsports Park will also include a first class karting facility, an ATV course, a 3/4 mile tri-oval speedplex, as well as a host of amenities and attractions that include a member’s only clubhouse (which will include a pool, tennis courts, and restaurant) VIP suites, trackside villas, hotel and conference center, restaurants, retail and raceplex businesses, restaurants, educational outlets, and other unique project attractions

Phase I will include

• Two road courses and all their ancillary buildings to fully operate a world-class racing facility
• Karting track with eight alternative configurations
• Skid pad & driver training surface
• VIP suites
• Up to 200 Shade Tree Garages

Phase II will include

• Trackside villas
• ATV, MX, BX, Offroad Experience course
• Restaurants and related retail
• Multiple hotels
• Research and development campus/speedplex
• Novice driving and training programs
• High performance racing school

Phase III will include

• 3/4 mile tri-oval speedplex
• Hotel with conference center
• Additional garages, warehouses/ storage facilities as needed

Why Thunderbolt?

P-47 Thunderbolt
There is history behind the naming of the main 'professional' track, Thunderbolt, (Lightening is more for driving clubs and race schools).  The site where the track is being built was a World War II military training facility.  Many of the pilots which flew the P-47 Thunderbolt, received advanced fighter training while stationed at Millville Army Airfield.

The P-47 Thunderbolt; —“The Jug”, —was rated by many historians as the most effective fighter-bomber of World War II.  The World War II theme can be seen throughout the park.

During its three year existence, thousands of soldiers and civilians served here, with about 1,500 pilots receiving advanced fighter training in the Thunderbolt.
The Millville Airport was dedicated "America's First Defense Airport" on August 2, 1941 by local, state, and federal officials. In less than a year, construction of military base facilities began, and in January 1943, the Millville Army Air Field opened as a gunnery school for fighter pilots. Gunnery training began with Curtiss P-40F "Warhawk" aircraft, but after a few weeks, the P-40s were gone, and the Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" ruled the skies over Cumberland County.

Thunderbolt vs. Lightening

With this 40 acre paddock area, Thunderbolt can accommodate any racing series
Doug Belliveau/AutoRacing1
It's clear that Thunderbolt can host both professional and club events.  Thunderbolt is 40 feet wide (Lightening is less) with over 2.25 miles of asphalt, 14 challenging turns, a one half mile straightway and approximately 40 acres of full service paddock space. Amenities on Thunderbolt will include concession buildings, event garages, twenty (20) VIP Suites, banquet rooms, a covered false grid, and a three (3) story timing tower with media center and VIP facilities.  This is the track ARCA, Grand-Am, Atlantics and Star Mazda will race on later this year.

Since the track's first asphalt course was not complete we were not able to drive around the entire Thunderbolt track the day we visited, but based on the small portion we did traverse, one immediately could tell this was the "professional" track - much wider and more runoff areas in the corners.

The blind, over a rise, first turn on Lightening will separate the men from the boys
Doug Belliveau/AutoRacing1
The 1.9 mile Northern Circuit will be known as Lightning, this 10 corner circuit will be fast and challenging featuring some of the most interesting and dramatic corners and elevation changes in the park. The 20 acre paddock area will have a 4 acre skid pad and autocross area, as well as concession areas, timing towers and school and drivers meeting room facilities.

We drove a couple of laps around the Lightening circuit and can attest to the fact that it will be fast and flowing and a great track for driving schools and club races.

F1 Go-Kart track

Connected to the Lightning is NJMP's 1.1 mile world class karting facility. The karting facility features eight dramatic configurations many of which can be run simultaneously. All eight configurations are designed to be run either clockwise or counter clockwise and just when you feel you’ve mastered the circuit, it’s time to point you in a new direction to learn all over again.

This track fills a pent-up demand for a place in New Jersey and the surrounding Manhattan and Philadelphia metropolitan regions to not only witness big-time road racing but also drive their own race car, take a driving school class, or attend some other motorsports function.  And if you are really a die-hard motorsports fan and the sound of race cars gets your heart pumping 24 hours per day, you can buy one of the Villas situated around the track and call it home.

More information can be found at their website.

Banked Lightening turn (note silt running across track during construction) Most buildings have a World War II theme The bridge for the Thunderbolt track is almost complete

Photos by Doug Belliveau/AutoRacing1

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