Car meet hopes to raise new awareness for Twin Branch Drag Strip | News

LOGAN — Dozens of car enthusiasts showed up for a car meet in the rain earlier this month at the Fountain Place Mall, in Logan, to raise new awareness for the long-awaited Twin Branch Motor Sports Complex in Mingo County.

Located on former mining land at Myrtle between Logan and Williamson, the racing facility has been a project in the works since about 2005, promoters say. Local racers were hopeful the track would soon be open for business following a ribbon-cutting and open house event in 2016, but four years on, the strip remains idle.

Tom Wilson, one of the Florida-based promoters behind the project, says the current hold-up is due to the site’s access road being held under an effective mine permit.

During a May teleconference meeting of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, Executive Director Leasha Johnson said the access road/mining operation property was bought earlier this year by Mitch Potter, the owner of JMP Holdings LLC, which operates Coal-Mac.

Potter’s purchase came after the previous owner, Southeastern Land, LLC — a subsidiary of Booth Energy — sold its assets.

“It’s like looking at a brand-new Lamborghini sitting in a field with weeds around it,” Wilson said. “That place, the only person that has any pull on any of that to make that track open — there’s not a politician out there can do anything for it — until the coal company releases the rights to the property now, which is Coal-Mac … the only reason we can’t operate that is the road going up to that is mining property. They will not relinquish that property for nothing.”

Wilson explained that an agreement had been worked out between the previous ownership and Mingo County for maintenance to be handled by the county during the open season of the track.

Everything came to a halt, he said, when the previous owner sold out.

According to a May 2016 article by Dragzine Magazine, the deed to the land the strip sits on is owned by the Mingo County Development Authority, who invested $300,000 into the project through the Mingo County Commission, while the Logan County Commission contributed $200,000. CONSOL Energy, who was the owner prior of the adjacent property prior to Southeastern Land, invested about $2.5 million into the project, with roughly $1 million of that to improving the access road in question. Wilson said the strip is mostly ready to be used, with only some asphalt still needed in various spots.

Proponents of the strip are hopeful its eventual opening can spark an economic boost in southern West Virginia. With rain pouring down steadily Friday night, a line of sports cars with dozens of racing lovers packed the parking lot of Lowes at the Fountain Place Mall in an effort to generate new awareness to finally get the track open.

“This ain’t even just the tip of the iceberg of what the track can do,” said Donnie Bishop, a Mingo County native who said he has advocated for the strip for about 15 years. “Younger kids, just everybody in general — it’ll help the area to promote tourism, it’ll tie into the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. It’s a no-brainer. You might as well say that it’s a win-win actually for the whole state because there’s no drag strip in the whole state of West Virginia. It can bring a lot to Southern West Virginia.”

The car meet even attracted some from as far as South Point, Ohio, such as Steve Lenko, who said he made the drive to show his support for the opening of another drag strip, also noting its economic benefits.

“I love drag strips, and I’d like to see them all open and working,” Lenko said. “I’ll tell you, every drag strip I’ve ever been to, the three things that you find is people always want to watch racing, people always want to support the local area, and people are always hungry. So as far as local businesses go, it’s just attracting a crowd from not even necessarily in this exact area, but 20 or 30 or 40 miles out. It’s not an extensive drive, it’s not too far. We’d be willing to drive it.”

Corey Hale traveled from Wheelersburg, Ohio, approximately two hours and 10 minutes away to show his support.

“I’m a huge fan of going to the track. I’ve got a car that runs pretty decent times and any time I know that there is something that I am a fan of as far as racing, I am going to go support something like that because, in reality, tracks like that are, kind of, a dying thing nowadays. Any time we can get interest promoted and get something like that up and running, that’s something I’m going to be willing to drive to go do,” Hale said. “I’m definitely excited to see it. I had no idea it was even a thing until actually a few hours before we made the drive.”

“I had maybe 24 hours to be notified about it,” said Caiden Erlewine, a Logan County native from Crooked Creek. “I made a post, me and a couple buddies made a post, and it went from there. People came from Charleston, Huntington, Ohio, Kentucky, I mean, they came from everywhere to show their support for Twin Branch, and if that don’t show that we truly want a drag strip, I don’t know what will.”

Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196.