CORDOVA, Ill. — As trailers and campers filed into the pit gates at Cordova International Raceway on Thursday, you could feel the excitement in the air as the track employees and the racers prepped for the 65th Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts World Series of Drag Racing.
“We’re excited as can be,” track president Dominic Blasco said on Thursday afternoon. “We’re going to have a bigger, better event this year. Last year, we had about 22,000 people through the two days and this year we’re trying to beat that number.”
The World Series is one of the area’s biggest drag racing events. Cordova International Raceway, formerly Cordova Dragway Park, has been home to the event for the majority of it’s existence. The vent began in Lawrenceville, Ill. in 1953, then moved to Cordova where it stayed until 2016. In 2016, the decision was made to move it to Memphis. That’s the first year that Larry Dixon raced the event.
That gave him the opportunity to see the stark difference between the event at Memphis and the one back in Western Illinois.
“It went from crickets, and then back here you just see the excitement in the fans and in the competitors faces that it’s back here where it’s home was forever,” Dixon said.
Dixon is a three-time NHRA Top Fuel Champion and a 62-time national event winner. He’s back at Cordova for the second year now, and loves the history this event brings to the table.
“This race reminds me of when I was a kid,” Dixon said. “My dad raced Top Fuel cars in the 60s and 70s and there was an event like this going on it seemed like once a month everywhere in the country. Tracks have closed over the years, but this race and this event have been going on forever and it’s cool to see that.
“Some things don’t change and this is one thing that you get excited to come back to.”
The World Series features some of the top dragsters in Top Fuel, Nitro Funny Car, Nostalgia Pro Stocks, Jet Cars and Pro Mods. Dixon is looking forward to running the track for the second time this weekend.
“Last year was our first time racing our Top Fuel car at this event so having a few runs under our belt definitely excited about making some improvements,” Dixon said. “We ran really good last year, so we’re looking forward to putting on a good show and getting some win lights.”
The track is also adding in a World Series of Drag Racing Hall of Fame this year to add to the stories event. The inductees this year include original track owner Bob Bartel, 17-time World Champion Don Garlits, three time World Champion Shirley Mildowney, Chevy Rebellion wheel stander Richard Hutchins, big bucks bracket racing mastermind Ron Leek, longtime associate of CIR Ron Colson and former United Drag Racers Association president Diamond Jumo Corwnhart.
Joining those inductees in the Hall of Fame and also serving as a mater of ceremonies is Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick. Beswick in a multi-national event winner and a long time attendee of the World Series.
“It’s one of the biggest events in the area, it really is,” Beswick said. “It’s exciting, and if you have any car blood in you at all you just love this place. They bring in a lot of the bigger names from around the country for this weekend and it’s just a real special event.
“I did not go to Memphis. I knew that was going to be a losing deal. This World Series was born and raised here in Cordova, Ill.”
Everyone knows Beswick, both for his skill at the tree and because that’s how drag racing works: it’s a close -knit sport and Cordova is no exception.
“I’d have to say that drag racing is a big, big, big family. We work very close together,” Beswick said. “Up on the starting line their enemies but 99 percent of the time they’re big friends. If someone has a part that broke, the next guy will run around the pits until they find one. It’s a big, big happy family. No matter where you go to a race around the country, you find the same comradery.”
It makes the sport very unique and makes this event one of a kind.
Add in the cars, and it’s unbeatable.
“It’s some of the most exciting action,” Beswick said. “Yes, I’m a football and baseball fan and stuff, but when it comes to excitement you’ll never meet the excitement level that you have out here at Cordova, it’s unbelievable.”
The action starts on Friday, with the big show happening on Saturday night and racing wrapping up on Sunday. There will not be a dull moment at CIR this entire weekend.
“It’s really hard to describe it,” President Dominic Blasco said. “You have to come here and live this. The people that come here, their family raced here and they remember all this. The World Series is a very prestigious race.”