In an era where dragstrips are closing and restrictive regulations and legislature threaten the automotive aftermarket, some folks are finding a way to keep the industry thriving. Gerard Hansen, an automotive historian and motorsport professional, loves car culture so much that he risked it all and decided to build the new Mississippi Raceway Park from the ground up.
Growing up in New Orleans, Hansen, now 67, was inspired by his love of soap box derby racing. He was so involved in the hobby, in fact, that he was inspired to study aerodynamics at the age of 12 and subsequently went on to pursue a career in the motorsports industry as a result. As an adult, he honed his professional skills and got involved with several forms of racing through his involvement with automotive paint companies.
Hansen worked alongside many big-name stars in IndyCar, NASCAR, IMSA, and more. A rained-out and lackluster Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana in 2015 at NOLA Motorsports Park, however, inspired him to believe that he could do better.
“I had plans drawn up and proposed it to the city,” explained the founder of the soon-to-be Mississippi Raceway Park. “I wanted a drag strip, road course, oval, and more.”
With plans approved, Hansen moved forward with the development process. While he is still seeking investors and facility sponsors to assist with the funding phase of the project, Hansen is dead-set on making it happen.
“We have 654 acres in Lux, Mississippi, that’s currently under contract [as of June, 2021]. We have a 90-day due-diligence period before we close,” he shared of the location that’s just outside of Hattiesburg and conveniently situated in the midsouth to facilitate ease of access. “We’re within a day’s drive of 40 percent of America’s population and have convenient commercial air transportation access.”
The first phase of construction will be the arrive-and-drive go-kart track, followed by the 4,500-foot, quarter-mile drag strip tentatively ready for Memorial Day of 2023, and then the only 5/8-mile paved flat-track oval in the state of Mississippi. After that work is finished, the 2.8-mile, 13-turn road course will be integrated into the preexisting courses with plans to have it flow through the grandstands and drag strip area with three different available configurations.
“We are very excited to see the concept become a reality,” asserted Hansen of the $30 million project.
Hansen’s new racing complex will also offer advanced youth and driver education sessions, law enforcement and emergency vehicle operation training, and more to promote overall motoring safety for drivers of all ages, skill levels, and incomes.
In addition to seating for 40,000 fans, luxury hospitality suites, on-track condos, and an RV campground, Hansen has plans to develop an area of the property as a corporate industrial park.
“We want performance companies to be able to headquarter here and have a product test facility, and maybe even house a vocational school,” he shared. “The facility will be designed and constructed to the highest levels with safety being the utmost importance. A grassroots racing complex built to professional standards, Mississippi Raceway Park will be consistent with the best tracks in North America, capable of hosting many forms of professional racing events,” continued Hansen. “Mississippi Raceway Park will bring national exposure, provide recreation, create jobs and has the potential of becoming a major destination for motorsport enthusiasts throughout the Southeast.”
Overall, Hanson is hoping to create more diversity in the racing community and develop future champions with his Mississippi Raceway Park project, all in a family-friendly environment. And, of course, harkening back to his humble beginnings, the facility will also house its very own soapbox derby track identical to the famous Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio.