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It’s my favorite time of year. Summer’s on its way, the car show season is starting, and most importantly, the racing circuit is in full swing. For a while there it was looking pretty gloomy on the drag racing front for people in the So Cal area. But the news of Irwindale Speedway opening at the end of April really put a spring in my step. Not just because it meant that I would have another place to tune the car for a race or see what it could do in the eighth mile after some changes, but it meant that the smell of racing was in the air again. Knowing the kind of negative effect the double track closing had on the community, I can only imagine an equally happy community’s response to Irwindale's re-opening. The people of Los Angles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties have a place to show off to their friends on a Thursday night again and that really means something. I really want to thank the people who decided to re-open the speedway. They’re not only doing a good deed for the racers, but for the whole tri-county area itself.
It was a little depressing earlier this year when we had two main tracks close all in the same month. And we had two rare rain outs here in California. We went from having an incredibly full schedule to kick off the racing season, to only one or two races in three months. So in an effort to busy up our racing schedule again, we decided to run the NHRA Tony Rowe Enterprises (Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s version of Summit Series) for points this year. Our first race was the second to last weekend in April.
We had spent the weekend before at the Moparty event in Las Vegas with 50 to 60 degree temperatures, high winds, and rain. They were definitely not ideal weather conditions for the event. But not seven days later, the weather did a complete 180 and Vegas turned into the desert I remember from last year’s races. Most people would prefer the previous week’s weather conditions, but believe it or not, I was supremely happy to have 106 degree heat and 7% humidity. It meant that summer was here and winter was over and racing was really happening again. I’m a person that would much rather be hot than cold, and even though it was pretty darn hot even in the shade, I was much happier to be in shorts and sandals while working on the car than bundled up in four jackets while sitting in the pit. And getting some time to tan wasn’t so bad either. But the unbelievably hot temps meant that the car was running significantly slower than its best elapsed time. Unfortunately that put me farther and farther away from my low 11 second Magnum fantasy, but as long as it was consistent, I was happy.
When your life revolves around cars, it’s a really great thing to wake up everyday and do your job. We really felt the racing season was stifled this year when we thought we couldn’t race a full series for points. But since LVMS finally posted their schedule, we’ve added a good 8 races to our calendar. Being at the racetrack so much really has made me realize what a unique sport drag racing is. I don't know of any other sport where people are so willing to help each other out in times of need. I have made more friends in my first year of racing than I ever did in four years of college. At the beginning of my rookie year last season, I was all over the place with lights and top end game. I remember several times when one of our new friends pulled me aside and gave me a small tip to make things easier or advance into the next round. A little later in the season, there was an incident where I made a rookie mistake that I will never forget. It was the first round of the ladder for an NHRA Summit race at Famoso Raceway, and I wasn’t yet aware of the courtesy staging rule. When my opponent noticed that I had both bulbs lit on my side, he let me sit there with my engine revving for 15 seconds before he even pre-staged. I ended up losing that round, and I haven’t done anything but courtesy stage since. I learned very quickly about that rule, and I’m grateful that he taught me such an important lesson in racing.
Little did I know that I would be returning the favor for another rookie in a time of need. Earlier this year in Las Vegas, one of our pit neighbors was an eight-year-old junior dragster driver, whose first run down the track was about to happen that afternoon. After it wasn't what he'd hoped, I really wanted to congratulate him on his run, but also try to help calm him down and sort through what happened. He was a little shook up because his car was scratched and he was confused about some of the things that happened at launch. But when I walked over to his trailer, I explained what an amazing feat he had already accomplished just by driving at such a young age. He explained what happened during his run, and his mood started to improve after about 5 minutes of chatting. I felt so much better after talking to him because I knew he was going to stop beating himself up. After I left, his family and friends thanked me for talking to him and making him feel better. Which I thought was funny, because I had no intention of being a hero for this young man. I just wanted to treat him with the same courtesy and sensitivity with which I was treated when I was first racing. Nevertheless, it sure was nice to see him cheer up afterward. And the best part was that he went on to win his class that weekend and receive a trophy that almost matched him in height. I was so happy for him that I felt almost as good as if I had won the race that day.
Hopefully my first season as a non-rookie will be as eventful and rewarding as last year. And now that the dry spell is over, I’m more confident that it will be. I don’t expect it to be easy, but hopefully we’ll keep learning more and more about the car after every race. More seat time means more experience driving down the track, getting to know the tree, and hopefully winning races. Summer time!