VIP Sponsors


A Visit with Mark Dawson The new track manager at Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, CA

A Visit with Mark Dawson The new track manager at Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, CA



A Visit with Mark Dawson
The new track manager at
Auto Club Dragway

 in Fontana, CA
Oct 18, ‘10
Story by Richard Parks and Photographs by Mark Dawson & Roger Rohrdanz

The only, year around, quarter mile drag strip left in So. Cal.


Mark Dawson(L) with Richard Parks to discuss his role at the Auto Club Dragway.  

Mark Dawson is the new track manager at the Auto Club Dragway in Fontana. He’s a young man with a great deal of experience and this will help the track grow and thrive. The drag strip is owned and operated by promoters of the large oval track and Mark is trying to create a unique drag strip that separates it from the parent company. Mark Dawson was born on September 18, 1975, in Reading, Pennsylvania to John T. and Judith Dawson. His father was a doctor and his mother a homemaker. Mark attended Wyomissing Elementary School and then Wyomissing High School where he played defensive tackle on the football team. It’s hard to visualize Mark as an aggressive lineman trying to sack the quarterback. He has a calm and personable style to him that makes him seem very likeable and yet in control. After high school Mark attended Reading Area Community College and majored in Electronic Engineering. In 2000 he came west to California to attend Musician Institute in Hollywood, California to pursue his dream of becoming a recording engineer for music bands. After graduating from the Institute he worked for Steve Vai, a guitarist for Frank Zappa. He also worked part time as a starter for Division 7 in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and as a back-up for Rick Stewart.

This came as a shock, how could someone with a musical talent tell me so much about his life and then all of a sudden mention something so out of the ordinary and complex as a starter for a professional drag racing company? I asked Mark how he got to that position and this time I listened very carefully and his biography began to get very interesting. That just proves a point that I have long understood; it isn’t the answers that are always the most important, but the questions that you ask. This time I quizzed Mark and asked him just how he developed his talents as a starter. Mark was first introduced to drag racing in 1992 at the age of 17 when he went to work part time as a parking attendant at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania. A good friend of his by the name of Seth Roby told him about Maple Grove and got Mark an interview. He’s a quick learner with lots of charm and he soon found himself working in the concession stands. Many a track promoter and manager has started out working at the bottom and learning all there is to know about how to run a drag or oval track. Mark learned how to scrape the track clean on weekdays, then on the weekends he would work in the time slip booth, staging lanes, fuel and tech inspections, at the starting line and in the bleach box. He was learning from the bottom up and he was making quick progress. “I learned a great deal from George Case, who was the general manager at Maple Grove. He put up a tough guy front, but he was really a nice guy,” said Dawson.

There were other role models in his life at the race track. J. K. (John) Krupiak was the track manager at Maple Grove, “And taught me everything that I know about track readiness and how to conduct a race,” Mark added. He then explained that the difference between the track manager and general manager duties. “The track manager overseas the race course and all the staff involved with putting on a successful race. The general manager is concerned with funding, sponsorship, media and budgeting,” Mark told me. Another important group in Mark’s life was the track owners and operators; the Stauffer family led by Mark and John Lee Stauffer, and Mike Lewis. Maple Grove is in Pennsylvania and is a NHRA affiliated and sanctioned track and has run the annual Keystone Nationals held in September or October of each year. The first Keystone Nationals was held in 1986. Mark’s first Keystone Nationals came in 1992 and he remembers it vividly as it had the quickest side by side racing to that time and it left an amazing impression on this young man. By 1994 he had promoted to the burnout box on the starting line and had mastered a great deal of knowledge about how to put on a drag race. He met Rick Stewart that year who was impressed with Mark’s abilities and recommended that the NHRA hire him to work the East Coast drag races. He went as far as Englishtown and Bristol and traveled with the NHRA crew and finally expanding his workload until he had worked in all but three of the National NHRA races around the country. In 2000, Mark left the world of drag racing and came west to pursue a career in the music world, but drag racing would not let him go so easily. After graduation Mark worked in the music studios until 2004 and then was offered a job in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Mark was now back in the racing world where he would stay. He worked for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway from 2004 through 2007 and worked with Chris Blair in the Operations Department. Mark’s title was promotions and operations coordinator and was later given an additional responsibility as manager of the Sign Shop. Mark knew and worked with John Bisci in the Public Relations Department. “John was always a funny and comical guy to be around,” Mark told me. While at the track, Mark was responsible for track conditions and for two large NHRA National races each year; The AC Delco Nationals in the Spring and the Summit Nationals in the Fall. In January of 2008 Mark went back to work for Maple Grove Raceway as the Director of Racing Operations in charge of over-all racing. On May 24, 2008 he married Jenny Welch and this has a racing story twist too. He met Jenny at the Denver, Colorado race track. Jenny was working for the NHRA as a computer operator and with George Phillips in the Junior Drag Racing program. Jenny worked for the NHRA part time and whenever there were National events. Mark’s duties at Maple Grove Raceway now called for him to prepare the track and to run the race, a job that has a thousand things that can go wrong and which takes a great deal of dedication and patience to do right. The general manager was Lex Dudas, who has been in drag racing for as long as I can remember.

Mark stayed at Maple Grove Raceway for two and a half years. In July, 2010 he received a call from Mike Yurick the VP of Operations at Auto Club Speedway, to interview for the job of track manager at Auto Club Dragway. With his experience he landed the job and came west to California once again, this time with a young wife at his side.  Mark has been given complete operational and fiscal control of the Dragway. The Fontana area is a great historical resource for drag racing in Southern California and Mark’s goal is to see that it is utilized more in the future. Lights for night racing are something Mark would like to see added. Night racing under the lights would enhance drag racing considerably. The track is a quarter mile long with another half-mile shut off area. It has two nets to stop cars, a tire barrier and it starts to go uphill after leaving the end of the quarter mile. Mark’s primary task is to increase advertising and increase the number of spectators that the track currently draws. Mark Dawson is just starting his new career on the West Coast, but he has a great background and experience. He appears to be just the person to keep Auto Club Dragway operating as a first class quarter mile drag strip, something Southern California has been in need of. Come to the Auto Club Dragway at Fontana, watch some great racing and meet Mark Dawson. 

Mark Dawson is the new track manager at the Auto Club Dragway in Fontana.
This was 1996, Chief Starter Rick Stewart's first year. Mark Dawson is right behind Rick. The track was Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania. 
In 2004, the first year Mark & Jenny were dating, they went to the NHRA banquet. The picture was taken at Pomona. They were there to show Stan Adams Jenny's dress, or just Jenny.
2010 - Mark Dawson on the tractor (in the rain) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2010 as a track prep consultant. He was hired by professional race teams and Chris Blair to do track prep. Before he took the job in Fontana. Ed "the Ace", of Don Shumacher racing, asked if Mark would join the team as a replacement of Lanny the track guru. He declined because of frequent travel.
It’s hard to visualize Mark as an aggressive lineman trying to sack the quarterback. He has a calm and personable style to him that makes him seem very likeable and yet in
Mark is hard at work presenting the winners with their “Wallys”
This plaque at Pomona honors the memory of legendary NHRA Chief Starter Buster Couch. One of Mark’s early experiences was being on the start line with Buster.