Life after Vernam - Drag-racing fraternity moving on after racing strip's closure
National Drag Racing Circuit (NDRC) executive member Stephen Gunter said that the body is now looking towards hosting future drag-racing events at the Ken Jones Aerodrome in Portland. This is after the regular venue for its meets, Vernam Field in Clarendon, was recently closed by the Government.
Vernam Field, which was originally an Air Force base for the United States Army during World War II, had become known as the main destination for drag racing in Jamaica over the last 59 years. However, Mike Henry, former transport minister, now operating without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, had ordered its closure as the Government plans to redevelop the complex as an aerodrome this year.
"Since we became aware of the reality of the aerodrome project and the aerotropolis project by the former minister, we have actually been in dialogue and negotiations with the Airports Authority of Jamaica for over a year now, and the suitable location that has been agreed on is the Ken Jones Aerodrome in Portland," Gunter said.
"To this date, the NDRC has received permission for all test and tune events to be held there. We are now working authorisation for our main events. So we anticipate that we will be able to host at least one event at the Ken Jones facility before the end of the year after it goes through all of the various regulatory bodies."
However, Gunter said that he has some sentimental attachment to Vernam Field, especially because of the many years he spent there.
"On a personal level, I am a bit of a historian when it comes to Vernam Field," he shared. "I have been personally involved in racing at Vernam Field since I was a child in the 1970s. My father used to race there. I've done a bit of research, and I know that the first event there was in 1959. We are closing out 59 years of racing activity at Vernam Field, and it is really humbling."
His sentiments are shared by other drag racers and car enthusiasts.
Dean Shaw, a veteran of the track, said he is disappointed at what he sees as a lack of vision shown by the Government.
"Vernam doesn't take up anything but a weekend piece of real estate," he said. "There's nothing fixed. We could live harmoniously with the development that's going on, but some bright spark in the Government believes that they have to X us out of it. A lot of us that invested money in vehicles have a challenge now."
Eugene Grandison, another of the track's top performers over the years, is disappointed at its closure because he believed it had a central location.
"Right now, I'm really down. I'm at a loss," he said. "Vernam is close by and Jamwest (in Westmoreland) is really out of range. I heard they were planning something for Portland, and that makes no sense at all. Rain falls every day in Portland. Vernam is so convenient, and we have a lot invested in the cars, so we don't know what we're gonna do right now."
Nick Lue, founder of Skunk Nation, a local group of car enthusiasts, said that Vernam Field had a special atmosphere for fans and it is important that the next chosen venue replicates this.
"I am actually worried because Vernam doesn't only come with drag racing," Lue explained. "It comes with a vibe, an energy, an adrenaline, and competition. To see Vernam close, I'm kinda worried about where drag racing is going. But remember, drag racing in itself is one form of motorsport. Where one motorsport loses out, another gains.