Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.
In rural southern New Jersey, GA seems to be going one way and high-end sports car racing another. Interestingly, they both do it at the airport.
The old Millville Army Air Field is some 40 miles west of Atlantic City. There, things mirror the long-troubled local economy. Big, beautiful World War II runways are underutilized. Famed jet engine over-hauler Airwork is long gone.
But now, there’s N.J. Motorsports Park (NJMP). It’s a winner! Depressed Millville was never known for swells driving Porches — until now. We arrived one October weekend to count some 20 high-end sports cars circulating downtown, many with race numbers on their doors. New hotels and restaurants have followed.
NJMP occupies 700 acres of the airport’s substantial footprint south and east of its runways. Racers of any legal age can drive two road courses, the 2.25-mile, 14-turn “Thunderbolt” and 1.9-mile “Lightning,” plus a 1.1-mile karting track. There are excellent paddock facilities, a driver’s club and restaurant, plus trackside townhouse “Villas” rentable as “VIP Suites.” A hotel and more amenities are planned, including a future ATV track and NASCAR-style Tri-Oval off airport property.
Millville was a World War II gunnery training base for P-47 ground attack operations, the ultimate best use of Republic Aviation’s powerful but heavy “Thunderbolt.” While the little Millville Army Air Force Museum there recalls how P-47 drivers practiced their strafing on old lighthouses in nearby Delaware Bay, it’s race cars making the noise at KMIV today. Pilots chuckle over the irony; airport neighbors now complain about racing engines, not airplanes.
NJMP has grown fast, although locals say things have slowed recently. Yet sports car owners come from all over to enjoy their steeds, which are otherwise hemmed in by urban speed limits and congested roads in the Northeast. They gladly pay a $2,400 annual membership fee to enjoy the full potential of their cars.
Aside from the airport’s annual air show, N.J. Motorsports Park is “what’s happening” at KMIV. A fancy new FBO for the business jet crowd folded recently, although Boeing will do helicopter rework there. The Millville Flight Service Station left (pre-consolidation) after the air conditioning equipment fell though its ancient roof. For now, the Delaware River Basin Authority solicits local and non-aviation businesses to occupy base facilities while they lease open airport land for activities where outside money is still flowing – namely, motorsports.
The barrier between today’s GA and this active, well-healed motorsports crowd may be more than the fence separating KMIV’s quiet runways from NJMP’s busy and colorful race courses. I hope at least a few of those Porsche drivers fly to the track.
Story and Photos © Drew Steketee 2010 All Rights Reserved