BEAVER SPRINGS - Call it an award 43 years in the making.
When Bob McCardle, more commonly known as "Beaver Bob" to everyone who knows him, was presented with the Legion of Honor Award earlier this month, it marked the culmination of the Beaver Springs Dragway owner and promoter's drag racing involvement. The national award is presented annually by the Nostalgia Drag Racing Association and pays homage to those who make extraordinary contributions to nostalgia drag racing.
If anyone meets those requirements, it's Beaver Bob. The 68-year-old drag racing enthusiast has owned and operated Beaver Springs Dragway for 43 years, providing a remarkably consistent venue for local drivers and an intriguing one for drivers from outside of the area.
Pictured are, left, National Nostalgia Drag Racing historian Dave Heisley, “Beaver” Bob McCardle, center, receiving the Legion of Honor award, and right, Darwin Doll, the executive president of the NNDRA.
It was an uphill climb for Bob McCardle to turn the dragway into the well-oiled machine it is today. The largest source of motivation, McCardle says, came from the operator of the racetrack in Kreamer, who cheated a 24-year-old McCardle out of 20$ following a race in 1970 and then proceeded to spit on his new shoes. It was right then that McCardle vowed to build his own track.
"My granddad, Ike McCardle, real well-known in the community up here, he always went to the drags all the time," McCardle said. "He asked me if I thought we could do it, and I told him yeah, I thought we could."
McCardle and his family were in the service station business and always focused on great customer service, something he sees as an absolute necessity in his business.
The 106-acre spread in, which was once Cameron Airport, is located in nearby Benfer and was purchased by McCardle on May 1, 1971. It opened just 30 days later in order to be ready for the summer season. Getting the grounds ready in such a short time was quite a tall task for McCardle and his friends who helped him do it.
"All that was here was a hangar, and there was nothing in it," he said. "We had to build the concession stand, we had to build the bathrooms. We had to sink three 1,000 gallon tanks for septic. We had to install the timing system, which was extensive, build the tower, put in the PA system, and put grandstands up. And we also needed a roadway. It was over the top."
McCardle however found a way to get it done, and the owner made a thrilling $1,600 over Memorial Day weekend. He quickly learned, however, that operating a dragway in the early 1970s wouldn't be the financial godsend that the opening weekend showed glimpses of.
"I found out that wasn't the way it worked, because you have a lot of bills," he said. "There were some really tough times when we first started out. The oil embargo came in '72, the insurance companies came down on horsepower in cars. Horsepower was done. Then the government got into emissions controls. Cars became heavier and slower. It was the perfect time not to have a racetrack."
Beaver Springs Dragway managed to perservere through the trying times. A lot of the track's success can be attributed to its owner's careful attention to detail and his constant emphasis on "doing the little things right."
"We always say, you can always find Bob walking around with a piece of trash in his hand," said Justin Badman, a local driver who frequents the dragway. "He's always cleaning up and making sure everything is in great shape so that everyone enjoys themselves."
Another key feature of the dragway and its remarkable longevity is the family-friendly atmosphere of the facility. McCardle is quick to point out that negativity simply doesn't exist at his racetrack; everyone is friendly and focused on making sure others are having an enjoyable time.
"What happens is, we just do our business, and just continue working, and I don't think much of it," McCardle said. "Then somebody on the outside says, you know what, you guys just really do it right. At Beaver Springs, we run every event like it's a show. At other racetracks, they treat ordinary races like a test and tune day, they don't announce or anything."
Part of McCardle's shrewd promotion of his track includes special events that set the Snyder County facility apart from the four other dragways in Pennsylvania. These include events for juniors to get them involved in the sport, street car races every Friday night throughout the season, and McCardle's personal favorite and the reason he was up for the Legion of Honor - nostalgia events. These feature classic automobiles squaring off in a drag racing setup - not exactly something one sees every day. In fact, the track hosted its largest event of the summer, the 11th annual York Nostalgia Nationals, on July 12-13 and will host its 15th annual "Flashback Weekend" August 7-9. The event features exclusively older models and the facility takes a trip back in time, as well; music and fashion reflect culture of decades past for the whole weekend.
McCardle is also proud of his "Pack the Track" promotion, which allows drivers to buy blocks of tickets at deeply discounted prices and hand them out to friends and family, encouraging more people to come and get hooked on the racing or even the food - the concession stand has made drastic improvements in recent years, thanks in large part to McCardle's wife Donna. The concession stand and bathrooms will be undergoing a renovation to become even nicer this winter.
With such a bevy of opportunities for both fans and drivers from all over the region, it shouldn't be a surprise that the Legion of Honor was awarded to McCardle, who is just the second track operator to receive it. After all, there really is no better way to honor a man who took a determined attitude, a dream, and an old airstrip - and turned them into one of the most impressive facilities in the drag racing industry.