BY RON GATES
The Wilbert’s always sat down to dinner as a family. One evening Jim was late getting home for dinner and they held it up until he arrived. When asked why he was late, Jim said that he and his cousin, Ron, and two other guys were going into business together. They were going to build a drag strip. According to his younger brother, Bill, everyone thought they were crazy. In 1962, Mo-Kan Dragway opened in Asbury on a former hay meadow.
“Over the years, I’ve done just about every job at the drag strip,” says Bill. He went on to become the Voice of Mo-Kan. His older brother, Jim, is deceased and his cousin, Ron, lives in Pittsburg.
Last weekend, about 4,000 fans, 200 drivers and drag racing legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits came to Mo-Kan to celebrate the track’s 60th birthday. Garlits first raced at Mo-Kan the year it opened. “I’ve been here five times. The last was in 1984,” says Garlits as he continued to autograph posters, t-shirts, and hats. At 90, Garlits says he still races a little but in an electric car and has a drag racing museum in Florida. “I’m a big supporter of small tracks like Mo-Kan.”
The Wilberts ran the track for thirty-seven years before selling it in 1999 to Carl Blanton, the current owner. “I was doing a newspaper that covered drag racing in this area,” says Blanton. “I’d been up here a number oftimes and worked with the Wilbert’s. In 1999, they called me and asked me if I wanted to manage it. I told them ‘No, I didn’t want to manage it’ and after a bit of pause, they asked ‘Well, do you want to buy it?’ That was 1999 and we’ve been here 23 years.” Blanton and his son, Craig, now operate Mo-Kan.
Many of the drivers here are from the Girard area including Rick Little, whose father, Pete, started racing at Mo-Kan in 1962 in his 1955 Pontiac. Rick was there this weekend with his dad’s old Pontiac and some of the trophies he had won. That car doesn’t run now but Rick races at Mo-Kan in his 1965 Bonneville wagon. “My dad bought his Pontiac in 1960 and was racing at other tracks before Mo-Kan opened.” Rick started racing about the time he got out of high school in 1978.
“When we first opened,” comments Bill, “we had flagmen. One at the start line and two in a tower at the finish line. The track was a quarter mile then. If the car on the left won, we had a flag that we’d put out the left side of the tower. If the car on the right won, we put the flag out the right side and if it was a tie, we’d hold the flag straight up. A dead heat!” adds Bill. “A couple of years later they added electronic timing and the ‘Christmas tree’ starting lights.” Originally, cars were divided into classes based on weight and the cubic inches of the engine. “We had a big scale, and we weighed the cars.”
For years, the standard drag race was a quarter mile. Now, it’s dropping to an eighth mile. “Cars are getting so fast that it’s almost impossible to stop them in the length of the track,” adds Bill. Last weekend, a Nitro fueled racer, War Wagon, set a new track record of 225 mph in an eighth of a mile. That is a run time of three and a half seconds from start to finish. It vibrates your body as it passes you!
Dan Stevens started racing at Mo-Kan in 1963. The 77-year-old quit racing for a few years to raise six kids. “I started up again in 1989 and I’ve been racing ever since,” he said. Unfortunately, Dan had engine problems on Friday night and is out for the rest of the season. But he still gets excited when a Nitro Fuel dragster flies by at 200+ mph.
Dan’s grandson, Hayden Stevens, won Rookie of the Year award at the 2021 Bracket Series Championship Banquet held in March 2022 at Memorial Hall in Carthage, MO. Hayden also took sixth place in Sportsman Top 10 category.
Girard native, Jim Peak, has a family dynasty in drag racing. His son, Braden, and two sons-in-law, race along with two grandchildren. “I got started back in high school. My brother-in-law, Bob Patton, got me started and I’m racing Super Pro class now.”
The Top Fuel racers may fill the stands with excitement, but it’s the Junior Dragsters, the kids between 7-18 years old, that are the future of drag racing. Cade Peak, son of Braden and Heather Peak of Mulberry, is 10 years old. “I’ve been out here since I was one or two years old when my dad was racing. I plan on continuingto race until I can’t race no more,” says Cade. He made it to the final four. His top speed was 73 mph. That’sfast when you’re sitting a few inches off the pavement for an eighth of a mile.
Another Peak racer is Khloey, 15, daughter of Kourtney and Danny Rosenthal of Girard and another grandchild of Jim Peak. “I’ve been here pretty much my whole life. I got into it when I turned 7. I like it because it’s unusual; not that many girls race,” comments Khloey. Her top speed last weekend was 82 miles per hour.
Another young racer is Landen Yockey, son of Christi and Adam Yockey. He’s 14. All three of the young kids’ fathers also race. Landen’s top speed was also about 80 mph.
The winner of the Nitro class this year was Megan Meyer-Linger from Olathe and a 2015 graduate of Pitt State. She twice won the title of World Champion NHRA Drag Racer. She raced for five years but retired from racing in 2020 when she got married and was starting a family. She came out of retirement last weekend to race at Mo-Kan with her father’s team, Randy Meyers Racing. She won the $10,000 first prize with a speed just over 220 mph. Her teammate took second place.
“I feel that 90% of the people that come here feel a real ownership in the place,” comments Blanton. “I think it’s more like the friendly corner bar and grill where everybody knows your name. It doesn’t have the corporate feel that many of the bigger tracks do. That’s what we try to do. Make it fun for them.”
If you missed this past weekend or are hoping to imbibe the potent atmosphere at Mo-Kan, don’t worry, there are still lots of races scheduled this year through November 20. Friday Fun Drags and Bracket racing are always available, and you still have several chances at some big events including Hot Summer Nights XIII on August 5-6, HAMB drags on August 20, Labor Day Classic featuring Funny Car Chaos from September 2-4, Titans of 10.5 World Finals on September 23-24, CDRA Bracket Finals on October 21-23, among others. For a full listing see http://www.mokandragway.com/schedule/.