Fire puts drag racers in pit

First Posted: 10/6/2014

RED SPRINGS — Cleanup continues today after a Saturday night fire left the main building at Thunder Valley Raceway near Red Springs in a pile of rubble.

No injuries were reported.

On Monday morning the owner of the drag strip, Lester Cooper, shovel in hand and covered in sweat, led the cleanup efforts along with members of his family. Cooper said all he can do is “build it right back up” as investigators try to determine the cause of the fire.

“We’re just going to clean it up, and look at other locations for a building,” Cooper said. “That’s our focus right now.”

Volunteer firefighters from the Shannon and Rennert departments were alerted by nearby residents at about 11:30 p.m. on Saturday that the building was on fire, according to Cooper. Cooper, who lives in Laurinburg, arrived early Sunday morning to see his building reduced to a pile of bricks and debris.

“They looked out and told me everything was ablaze,” Cooper said. “By the time the fire departments and me got there, the damage had been done.”

On Sunday, sheriff’s Lt. Brian Duckworth, arson investigator for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, surveyed the damage. He said he had not found anything to suggest arson.

The racing control systems in the building were destroyed, which will cause the racetrack to be closed for a minimum of two weeks, according to Cooper. The racing controls will be the biggest expense, according to Cooper.

The damage was estimated at $60,000.

Cooper said the control system will operate from a temporary building until the track is re-opened with a permanent hub.

Cooper has raced for nearly 20 years as a professional in the American Drag Racing League and the International Hot Rod Association while operating Thunder Valley Raceway. He currently competes in the Professional Drag Racers Association and is fifth in the points standings.

“I’m going to miss maybe a week or two until we get this place running again,” Cooper said.

The quarter-mile raceway was opened in 1988, and is known for weekly extreme pro stock drag races. Weekly winners can receive as much as $2,500.

Thunder Valley hosts anywhere from 30 to 35 racers every week, according to Cooper. Most of the faces at the track are regulars who enjoy competing, as well as watching the events.

“We have top-notch talent here when we race,” Cooper said. “They’ll have to find other tracks while we fix this place, but they’ll be fine.”

The racing season at Thunder Valley can run through winter depending on the weather.

“We usually have large crowds here on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons,” Cooper said. “Hopefully we’ll be back on track soon.”