Summer Sizzler Looms Big for 'Big River'

Photo of Mike Nash courtesy of Sara Harris

BONNE TERRE -- Only one thing has been missing at Big River Sand Drags in 2013: Racers. The result has left the man in charge, Jason Harris, stunned and disappointed. "If we can't get enough racers back out to the track (on July 5th and 6th), I will have no choice but to close the gates. We've had some dedicated racers who have supported us, and so many others have been supporting us, but I've invested a lot into the track, and if we can't encourage more people to bring their helmet and race something -- I don't have any other option."

Big River Sand Drags has been a fixture of racing (anything with a motor) and fun nights for families in Bonne Terre, Missouri for 23 years. Moreover, the former ruling body, Missouri Sand Racing Association was formed in 1983 with many different venues throughout Southeast Missouri, which over the years dwindled to a single track -- "Big River". The courteous Midwestern venue is considered one of the fastest and safest tracks of its kind, and has hosted events for (the former) ASRO and the very successful Pro Truck Nationals series.

The racetrack has endured a lot of ups and downs over the years, from the founder John McCulloch's tough times in the mid-1990s to the hiring of Jeff Mills, which saw the track boom with an increase of racers and spectators that lasted into the tenures of two other track owners after 'Big John' retired. Jason Harris leased the track in March 2013, following a lifelong dream. See, Jason had worked alongside family (the McCombers) and the Varners, Dees, and Huffs, and countless other racers, friends, and supporters from the day it opened in 1990. Harris, nicknamed "Spongebob" by Mills for his safety yellow track official t-shirt, has invested his personal financial resources and time, along with the time and labor of Dave and Josh Varner, family (Sara, Becca, Theresa, myself and others), and many other friends, to try to bring some more fun back to Bonne Terre.

The Port-A-Tree timing system has been completely overhauled from updated software, new underground wiring, a new printer, and everything set to precise specifications (photocell placement and containment). Aside from our dear friend Karen Dee, the track has been completely operated in 2013 by the same people John McCulloch hired and Jason Waller kept.

While delays from timing system issues (May 25) and severe weather (June 22) cancelled the two events, 'Big River' has seen substantial spectator turnouts -- yet the total number of racers at an event peaked this year at twenty-five. Harris, for the first time in track history, has offered 100% payout on all classes. This change hasn't been enough to grow the number of racers in 2013, so in a last-ditch effort, the track is now offering "old school" double-elimination competition, and in addition to entry-fee payout classes, now offers both ATV and vehicle classes with FREE entry fee (no payout). New racers will pay a reasonable $5 surcharge per event. Racers who have already paid their annual surcharge in 2013 will not have to pay this event surcharge.

The "Mid-Nite Madness" test & tune will take place at 7:00 PM tonight. Admission is free to everyone and unlimited passes with a timing system are $25. The make or break "Summer Sizzler" will take place tomorrow. Gates will open at 3:00 PM, racer registration & time trials from 3:00 to 6:00 PM, and racing at 7 o'clock.

Only time will tell if this is the last opportunity folks will ever have to race on "the greatest surface in the sport", or if those of us in Southeast Missouri will ever see sand drag racing in our area again.