Donnie Olish and family bought the Wilkesboro Raceway Park on April 29.
Olish is from New York and manages many businesses there. Until he can move to the area full-time, the former owner, Phil Halbedel, will be “staying on for a while to help Donnie get to know the track as well as the racers and the community,” according to a post Halbedel made on the park’s website, wilkesborodragway.com.
The park, in the Mount Pleasant community of western Wilkes, is North Carolina’s oldest operating dragstrip. Formerly known as the Wilkesboro Dragway, it opened in 1955 and celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2015.
The dragstrip has changed hands several times over the decades. Phil Halbedel and wife Pat Prout bought it from the late Danny Dunn in 2015. Halbedel and Prout put it on the market in June 2019 for the asking price of $1.1 million.
Angus Ellis and his sons—Lester, J.C., Bill and Gwyn—and Angus’ brother-in-law, Sam Eller, built the track in 1955. Although in the Mount Pleasant community, it was originally named the North Wilkesboro Dragstrip.
The Ellis family owned the track for the first 21 years of its existence. Bill Ellis owned it outright from 1970-76 after he bought out the rest of the family’s shares.
Ellis sold his shares in 1976 to Tom Ferrell and, after two unsuccessful years, Ferrell closed the track. The dragstrip reopened under Wilson Johnston in 1980.
Ownership changed a few times after that, but it stayed open until 1989. At that time, Dean and Greg Wilkie of Lenior took over and closed the track for two years to make renovations.
From 1993 to 2000, the track was leased to several different drag racers and renamed the Wilkesboro Raceway Park.
In 2000, the late Danny Dunn and wife Mona bought the track and owned it until early 2015, longer than anyone outside of the Ellis family.
Halbedel and Prout assumed ownership through a property swap with the Dunns. They hosted their first race on June 12, 2014, and moved into the home/concession stand less than three days later.
In 2014 the couple invested more than $100,000 on the track in the form of new concrete, paint and consistent track maintenance. The track became affiliated with the International Hot Rod Association in 2015.
This year’s park schedule includes test and tune every Thursday, weather permitting, with gates opening at 5:30 p.m. Saturday gates open at 10 a.m., time runs start at noon and racing begins at 2 p.m.