According to the old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’’
And that apparently is even true in the world of professional drag racing.
After being moved to Memphis for one year, the World Series of Drag Racing will return to its familiar home at Cordova International Raceway later this month and interest in the iconic event apparently is as high as it’s ever been.
“I think it’s going well,’’ said Joe Taylor, executive director of the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I am glad to have them come back. It’s almost like it’s new again … This break from Memphis I think kind of convinced everybody what it really meant to the Quad-Cities and like I say, it’s almost like it’s brand new again even though it’s been here many, many years before.’’
Brenda Stuart, the long-time office manager of the Cordova track, said interest in the World Series has rebounded in a big way.
“Everybody is super excited, as are we,’’ she said.
Stuart said that much of the reserved seating for the World Series, scheduled for August 25-27, already has been snapped up.
She said the reserved motor home sites along both sides of the track are sold out. All reserved seating at the starting line is sold out for the Saturday night program and is filling up quickly for Friday night. Pit spots for racers are not completely gone but Stuart said it is “getting full.’’
About 1,500 grandstand seats were added last spring and Stuart said they’ll be needed.
At its peak, the World Series attracted crowds of 12,000 to 15,000 on Saturday nights.
“We’re anticipating at least that,’’ Stuart said. “We’ve cleared off more area for parking and camping to accommodate the anticipated increase in attendance.’’
The Cordova track, located on Illinois route 84 about 15 miles north of Interstate 80, hosted the World Series for 62 consecutive years, from 1954 through 2015.
However, IRG Sports + Entertainment, which owns the International Hot Rod Association and several tracks around the country, thought the event had greater potential if it could be held in a larger market.
So, last year, it opted to hold the event at Memphis International Raceway.
From the very beginning, the move was met with anger, disappointment and outrage from drag racing fans who had made annual pilgrimages to Cordova for more than six decades.
The move was panned by several publications and websites devoted to the sport. Dean Moyer, president of the village of Cordova, speculated that it might lead to the demise of the track.
Taylor compared it to having the Kentucky Derby taken away from Churchill Downs, but he said he was careful not to react with hostility.
“My strategy was not to beat up on the IHRA and say ‘This is horrible, this is awful …’’’ Taylor said. “I said ‘Hey guys, we want you back. The Quad-Cities is the place this should be. When you’re ready, we’re ready.’ And lo and behold, (IRGSE CEO) Chris Lencheski called and said ‘We’re coming back,’ and I said ‘Great, we’re ready to help.’’’
Stuart said the track itself attracted very little criticism. It mostly was directed at IRGSE.
“I think (fans) were just angry in general, disappointed, upset,’’ she said.
When the event attracted sparse crowds in Memphis, as predicted, the outrage intensified.
Ron Colson, who was involved with the World Series as an employee, driver and fan for more than 60 years, used the word “blasphemy’’ to describe what IRGSE did.
After it was announced in February that the World Series would return to Cordova, he went so far as to trademark the name World Series of Drag Racing to ensure that anyone wanting to use that title again would need to deal with him.
It apparently is going to turn out fine with the Quad-Cities being able to retain an event Taylor said carries an economic impact of close to $750,000.
“It’s a sizable chunk of change,’’ he said. “And it’s a unique event. There aren’t that many drag strips around anymore. It’s one of those kind of niche events that we are able to host because we have Cordova International Raceway.’’