The Delaware Motorsports Complex that houses the U.S. 13 Dragway, Delaware International Speedway, and the U.S. 13 Kart Track is truly a family operation. Its origins with the Cathell family can be traced back to 1963.
Back then, current promoter Charlie Cathell and his late father Bill were avid go-kart racing fans. Their interest in racing evolved into drag racing at Georgetown, Delaware’s popular 1/8 mile track. Racing there spawned the idea for their own quarter-mile track after noticing the difficulty cars had stopping after reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour. Bill was also interested in having a place where his son and his friends could drag race in a safe and controlled manner.
In 1963, the family purchased a parcel of farmland on the west side of US 13, about a mile north of Delmar. To their dismay they discovered that they only had enough room for a fifth-mile track. The fifth-mile track did not allow enough distance for shutdown, so shortly thereafter, the Cathells purchased additional land and extended the track to a quarter-mile.
The first year of operation was slow, but the Delmar Drag Club, which still exists today, helped keep the facility going. There were no grandstands the first year. Devoted fans backed their vehicles up to the fence to watch the racing. Many still enjoy the races that way today.
As interest in racing grew, the family business grew. A dirt track was built on the west side of the dragway and the grandstands were put on wheels and towed back and fourth between the two facilities. The Delmarva Auto Racing Association leased and ran the track from 1965 to 1968. The following year, the track moved to its present location but was a third-mile complete with a figure eight. The Cathell family took over management of the track with the help of a staff of 50 to 75 “locals”, many of who are still with the family today.
Over the years the speedway was expanded to its current half-mile configuration and the U.S. 13 Kart track was added to the south end of the facility.
On Saturday nights, the Delaware International Speedway heats up with modifieds, late models, street modifieds, AC Delco modifieds and modified lites. Depending on the season schedule, the dragway provides entertainment on either Friday nights or Sundays with Super ET, Pro, Pro Bike, Street Eliminator, Import, Bike Trophy, Jr. Dragster I and Jr. Dragster II.
In 2005, US 13 Dragway hosted the NHRA Division One Bracket Finals. That event drew nearly 800 racing teams to the area for the three day event. US 13 Dragway also has had the privilege of hosting the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and numerous other special events throughout the year.
The Cathells are often asked what keeps them busy during the off-season of their business. However, for the family, there is no “off-season”. During this time they are busy with the next year’s schedule, sponsorships, marketing, award banquets, division meetings and car shows. During racing season, week days are filled with hours of required maintenance to keep the track in topnotch condition.
The family is proud of the recognition from the Delaware Tourism Bureau as the eighth most popular attraction in Delaware and the second only to the beaches in Sussex County. Charlie Cathell was also recognized as “Promoter of the Year” in 2004 at the annual Promoters Workshop in Daytona, Fla., as well as being inducted into the NHRA Northeast Division Hall of Fame.
The Cathell family has also been recognized for their public service. Each year they donate their time and facility for the Camp Barnes Benefit Race This event has been held at the track for over 25 years and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to send disadvantaged children to camp.