BUNKER HILL – Steve Daniels isn’t getting any younger. He feels it in his joints every day.

Twenty years ago when he and his wife Darlene purchased Bunker Hill Dragstrip, his body could handle sitting atop a mower for eight hours, and all the other maintenance-type work that went along with operating the racetrack.

“I’ve reached the age I need to start thinking about retirement,” Daniels said. “Not because I necessarily want to, but because parts of my body are telling me I’m going to have to.”

The Daniels family had been floating the idea of selling for the last five years, but after another harsh winter, they made the conscious decision to put the property on the market in March, utilizing the services of local real estate agent Gena Martin to assist with marketing what the land has to offer prospective buyers.

The dragstrip sits on a 23-acre parcel and includes a house and restaurant and bar. An asking price of $650,000 is negotiable. Additionally, there is a 20-acre parcel of land with a dirt track raceway that hasn’t been used in a few years, land which could be converted to agricultural uses, available for an additional $230,000.

Interest has been a mixed bag since the property hit the market. Martin and her team most recently advertised the properties at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s going to be our market,” Martin said. “It’s going to be people who have some money and want to live the life of racing, or they could have someone live there and run it for them. You’re sending out packets to specific people. It’s not something that’s going to sell locally, probably.”

A history of racing

Bunker Hill Dragstrip is the oldest continuously running dragstrip in Indiana, and has only had two owners since it opened its gates in 1956.

Daniels purchased the property from the original owners Jim and Mary Hullinger in 1996.

Prior to 1956, Jim Hullinger and a group of associates had held races over at the Converse air strip, which was an auxiliary strip for Naval Air Station Bunker Hill, the predecessor to Grissom Air Force Base.

Hullinger's aunt owned the Bunker Hill property, and he had the opportunity to buy it from her. The family was able to use what had been the rail line road bed of the old Interurban as the basis for the drag strip.

“Instead of having to buy a virgin property and go in and base in a road for the track with gravel, the base was already here with the rail line that had been abandoned and had the rails taken up,” Daniels said. “They came in and put the racetrack right on top of that old road bed. Jim was a repurposer from way back.”

Daniels long had a passion for the sport, picking up racing in high school. Prior to taking over the operations at Bunker Hill, he worked at Edgewater Sports Park in suburban Cincinnati, where he learned the ropes off the managerial side of the business.

The Daniels family has given the property an overhaul over the last 20 years, starting with the installation of flush restrooms and a new concession building.

The parking areas have been upgraded, and the track was repaved in 2010. Two years after, they family added The Outpost Bar and Grill to the property to give the business an additional revenue stream during the week.

“We’ve maximized the property and the facility,” Daniels said. “It’s very tough in this day and these times to be totally dependent upon a small racetrack like Bunker Hill is, utilizing it only 60 days out of the year.”

Putting in the work

Daniels reminisced on all the “work, time, effort, blood, sweat and tears” he and his family have put in to continue to make the racetrack an attractive place for competitors and fans alike.

There’s much more to it than just swinging the gate open and collecting money.

“There’s a lot of armchair quarterbacks out there that think it’s easy … that’s not the case at all,” Daniels said. “It’s a big job, it really is. We put a lot of hours in during the week.”

Mowing and maintaining equipment is just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from everything that goes into running the restaurant, there’s fences that constantly need fixed, and bleachers that need to be inspected and repaired. And that’s before the maintenance on the track gets done. Daniels and employees perform maintenance to the start line every Saturday before racing to get the track to perform at its best for the racers when they come in.

“It’s time for a younger, more energetic, newer, promotional-marketing-idea type of person to come in and take over,” Daniels said. “Marketing and promoting is the big thing that makes our world go around here at the race track. Promoting races, getting racers and sponsors in are huge. That world has gotten very competitive over the last 20 years, in particular the last eight to 10 years, especially with the downturn in the economy.

“The sponsorship money was real flush before that and you could just go pick it,” he continued. “In today’s world, sponsorship money is very competitive and tough to get. It takes a newer, smarter, more educated person to handle that. That’s what needs to come in.”

Finding that energetic individual could be a major challenge, one that Daniels admits may be the reason the property may not continue on as a dragstrip in the coming years. It will continue on as such as long as the Daniels own it, but once it’s sold, it’s up to the new owner to do with it what they will.

“With the track being in operation for 60 years, there have been a lot of names come through the gates at Bunker Hill over the years,” Daniels said. “It would be in an ideal world if someone comes along and continues that, but life is life. As you transition things from one purpose to another, if someone negotiates a sale and decided they want to do something different, that’s their prerogative, as long as it aligns with community standards.

“Community support has been great, and I expect whoever comes in and takes it over will garner the same respect and support if it’s run well,” he concluded.

Josh Sigler can be reached at 765-454-8580, by email at josh.sigler@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @JSig_KT.

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