How Rebranded Phoenix Dragstrip Survived a Death Sentence to Return to NHRA Schedule

Jackson Wheeler
5 Min Read


It wasn’t a marketing ploy.

Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park advertised its 2023 NHRA Arizona Nationals as the last one ever at the storied Chandler facility near Phoenix that also featured a lake with drag-boat racing.

Now, the event is back on the Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series in its familiar spring spot—with the track rebranded to the throwback name of Firebird Motorsports Park.

So what gives?

Track Manager Casey Buckman and Track Business Administrator Connie Bopp promise all the promotion billing last March’s event wasn’t a public-relations ruse just to get people to come and pay their respects to a dying track.

nhra arizona nationals

Many fans who turned out for the Arizona Nationals earlier this year thought they were seeing track’s final NHRA event.

NHRA/National Dragster

“We were scheduled to close on June 30th. We held our last of every single event and we had our offices cleaned out. This was the end of the road for us. This was the end of the facility,” Buckman said during the Performance Racing Industry Show at Indianapolis on Thursday. “And at the 11th hour, Cassaundra Wallace (assistant general manager/legal and development) and her (Wild Horse Pass Development Authority Board) team were able to step in.”

Bopp said, “We truly were going away. We had a closing date. And it was literally the 11th hour that they were trying to figure out how to keep us.”

The complex, owned by the Gila River Indian community and managed by the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, is “here for years to come. There’s going to be no question about it. We hope to have NHRA back for many more years. We’re going to have our road racing,” along with concerts and boat racing and special events, Buckman said.

“When Roger Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman George family, the conversation wasn’t about ownership or acquisition. It was about stewardship. It’s because there was such a reverence for the legacy that he was taking over and that he was pushing into the future. When I look at what was Firebird International Raceway for 30 years, what then became Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park for the next 10, that’s the way I look at it. I look at stewardship. I look at carrying on a legacy,” Buckman said.

Bopp said all parties—including the Arizona Department of Transportation, which had planned to build an access road to an Interstate 10 off-ramp directly through the property—cooperated to preserve the piece of local and racing-industry history. She confirmed that the rumor was true that the tribe had been willing to consider moving the facility to a less-strategically located section of the property, if necessary.

According to Bopp, “They’ve adjusted those plans. So that access road now will be south of us. The property will change a little bit as that goes through, but it’s definitely not the dire [situation] that we all had originally thought.”

She said the drag races, which is scheduled next for April 5-7, 2024, should be in place for at least another 10 years. Capital improvements are underway, including asphalt, paint, and other upgrades. “We are basically from a closed facility to a new facility. It’s going to come in stages,” Bopp said.

Headshot of Mike Pryson

Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and MLive Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek in 2011. He won several Michigan Associated Press and national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for auto racing coverage and was named the 2000 Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club’s Michigan Motorsports Writer of the Year. A Michigan native, Mike spent three years after college working in southwest Florida before realizing that the land of Disney and endless summer was no match for the challenge of freezing rain, potholes and long, cold winters in the Motor City.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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