Englishtown Raceway Park has gone through some pretty drastic changes over the years. However, the most recent change – creating a drift stadium out of the historic drag strip – may prove to be the most drastic yet.
The dragstrip which has held the NHRA Summernationals for well over 50 years under various sponsors, has been reinvented into one of, if not the best viewing drift stadium track in the United States. I mean it – there’s not a bad seat anywhere in the house; you have the action front and center, no matter where you sit.
When you build a new track you need an event to showcase it. With Formula Drift leaving Wall Stadium, a short 20-minute drive from Englishtown, the pitch was made and landed. FD was coming to E-Town in 2020.
However, a cruel twist of fate lay in wait. With the COVID-19 pandemic setting in, plans had to be changed. Formula Drift would have to wait another year before coming to the stadium. But that didn’t stop Mike and Chris Napoliello from thinking up an event that would feature the stadium track. Cue doves and singing angels – the E-Town Gambler was born.
Similar to the Klutch Kickers $100,000 event, this would be a cash prize event with some sponsor prizes for the winners. Run over three days, the Gambler showcased talent from up and down the East Coast and across the country in a competitive drifting event, the first of many on the new stadium track. I say ‘competitive’, because the Club Loose boys have some pretty fun times here too, but more on that later…
First things first, the track layout lends itself to tight tandems, and that is exactly what we got. I remember back to the fall of last year; Chris and myself were riding around the drag strip when the course hadn’t even been paved yet, talking about the inspiration for the track setup and what the corners might be like. Back then, I was one of a very fortunate few that knew what was happening to the historic drag strip. It was a very hard secret to keep.
The boys over at Club Loose held a session on the new stadium track a few weeks before the Gambler, and ran a few ‘party’ track layouts. Launching from the parking lot was one of my favorite configurations during this time.
You can expect there to be more sessions in the stadium from the Club Loose boys throughout the remainder of the year, including something called The BloodMasters’ Invitational in October. I hear that team invites have already been sent out.
Back to The Gambler… Thursday was an optional practice day for the competitors, and something stuck out right from the get go. Walls hurt. They hurt bad. Countless drivers found themselves tangled with the walls that line the outer sections of the course, something that ultimately played a key role in the ending of this competition.
All in all, Thursday was pretty mundane compared to Friday and Saturday. Friday was the qualifying day, and Nils Guttormsen took the top qualifying spot in his 2JZ-powered drift truck.
However, the second top qualifier was unexpected; Rich Whiteman secured this position in a relatively stock Nissan 350Z. This really shows the diverse mix of cars being used to compete in the E-Town Gambler. You had a mix of grassroots cars mixed in with fully-prepped pro cars and everything in between.
On Saturday drama quickly unfolded. It started with Galen Nazareno tapping the wall and destroying his rear subframe roughly an hour before the Top 32 started. Miraculously, Galen was able to borrow a complete subframe from another competitor and get it swapped into his S14 before being called to the line.
Ricky Hoffman had a similar miraculous story. After stuffing his S13 into the wall during practice earlier in the day, mangling the front end pretty seriously and bending a frame rail or two, Ricky and his team were also able to get the frame straightened and make it to their Top 32 battle.
But nothing compared to how this event ended. The Top 4 battle between two Formula D Pro 2 drivers, Kenric Meyer and Dimitri Brutskiy, was epic and quiet literally ended in a flash. And a crunch. In the second half of their ‘one more time’ battle, Kenric extended too deep into the last outer zone and carried too much speed into the corner. This forced the back end of his BMW E36 to clip the wall, sucking the front end in too.
As you can tell from the photos, Dimitri was right in the pocket following and slammed straight into the back of Kenric. The impact echoed throughout the stadium. Both drivers walked away from the accident unharmed thanks to the quality of their safety equipment and roll cages. But that quiet literally ended the inaugural E-Town Gambler with a bang.
The finishing order had Jonathen Nerren taking first, Dimitri Brutskiy taking second, Steve Misko taking third, and Kenric taking fourth.
Personally, I think this new drift stadium at Englishtown is absolutely amazing. During the Gambler, it genuinely felt like the stands were filled, and there was a level of excitement akin to when James ‘Jungle Jim’ Liberman used to go down the strip.
It’s safe to say, the greatest place on Earth just keeps getting better.
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