Home • Burlington County News ‘Sunday, Sunday, be there, be there’ – at Atco Dragway

‘Sunday, Sunday, be there, be there’ – at Atco Dragway

Local fans mourn sudden, unexplained closing of famed track

A dragster fires up at the starting line of the fabled Atco Dragway, a National Hot Rod Association sanctioned track. The raceway closed for good on July 18. Courtesy of Atco Dragway

Long before social media, a television and radio ad fairly screamed at South Jersey residents to get to Atco Dragway each week.

“The commercial was great,” said Dori Wasko of Gloucester City, whose family supported the fabled track for many years after it opened in 1960. “‘Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Be there, be there.’ It was a tune that stuck in your head after hearing or seeing it for hours.”

Wasko was among many hot rod fans saddened by the July announcement of the drag strip’s closure after 63 years.

“It is sad to hear of its closing,” she noted of the sudden closure. “You are losing that ‘making memories’ venue, whether it’s with your friends, family or the track community. Not being able to expose the next generation to the sights and sound and smells will also be a loss.”

Originally called Atco Raceway, the amazingly fast quarter-mile drag strip in Waterford Township – the oldest in New Jersey – featured dragsters that spit fire and loudly made their way down the track, initially to break a 200 mph barrier. The track was sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association and featured professional drag racers.

“Atco Dragway was always a good time with your circle of friends,” Wasko recalled. “It was a rite of passage to be able to say that you were able to sneak in at one time. Hanging out drinking beers in the parking lot, doing a swoop through the pits, and then heading to the grandstands for the start.

“The more the bleachers shook, the faster the car,” she added. “We would also sit down closer to the finish line where the cars were at their fastest.”

But a scary moment for her came when she and her husband, Ray, went to the raceway for a Thrill Night featuring Robbie Knievel, son of daredevil Evil Knievel, in the 1980s.

“When Robbie bounced down the track like a tennis ball after his failed attempt to jump over cars on his motorcycle, the crowd was silent,” Wasko remembered,  adding that the audience feared it had jinxed the younger Knievel with smack talk as ramps and cars were set up. He survived, but broke his collarbone.

Wasko recalled that over the years, her husband and his friends would participate  in Street Night, an opportunity for customers to race their own cars down the track. 

“In doing that, you feel the sense of a community or family with the track,” she explained. “So with closing the track, you lose the opportunity to meet people with similar interests. Not to mention it is one more ‘family time’ venue we are losing as spectators.”

The closure announcement posted on the track’s website on July 18 got right to the point.

“Effective immediately,” it read. “Atco Dragway is permanently closed. Thanks for your valued business and support the last 63 years.”

The track’s owners did not respond to media inquiries. All events planned for the remainder of 2023 were canceled and plans for the site have yet to be announced.  

But that famous ad that burned into the minds of the Waskos and others will fade into history, too.

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