THE FINE ART OF NOT DRAG RACING
One of the biggest unseen expenses of Stock Eliminator drag racing is that the motors, fragile exotic creatures that they are, have to be wound up to the ragged edge of extinction every time the car goes down the track. Use is truly abuse, especially in the faster classes and Murphy's Law is a devious opponent, as determined as the racer in the other lane. For these reasons, we stock class racers frequently find ourselves with broken or wounded cars. When this happens, we have three basic options: 1) Stay home and mow the lawn; 2) Put a lesser motor in the car and go bracket racing; 3) Go to the races without a race car and watch. A few weeks ago, we found ourselves with a wounded 426 and a commitment to attend the inaugural nostalgia event to sell tee shirts and race the car at Shelton Drag Strip. We really wanted to go so we yanked the hurt stocker motor and installed our fresh and faithful bracket 440.
It's never as easy as you hope it will be but this wasn't bad. We had enough time and there weren't any ugly surprises. On Friday I went out to Shelton to set up our pit area and drop off a bunch of tee shirts. Dr. Big Block stayed behind and finished off the engine installation. So far, so good. Then Murphy's Law hit us again. After an uneventful warm up and break in we had a freak head gasket failure and a painful lesson in hydraulics. One of the cylinders filled up with water, and the motor mangled a rod. It was 6:30 the night before the race. We had no choice left but option #3. Such is the way of motors and Mopars.
Shelton Drag Strip is located at sleepy little Sanderson airport, originally a WW II era military air field. The original strip was open from 1951-67. As one of the original West Coast tracks, it has a rich history, with the rubber of drag racing heavies laid down over the years. For reasons unknown to me, it was closed down in '67. As a result local racers went to Pacific, Bremerton, or Puyallup to get their quarter mile kicks. Usually, when a track gets shut down the housing projects or commercial interests move in, but this never happened at Shelton. The model airplane club moved in. Idiots, I mean skydivers, continued to jump out of perfectly good airplanes onto the old starting line. The military went away, along with the military airplane dismantling operation. Shelton remained a sleepy little airport.
Meanwhile, Puyallup closed, leaving only Pacific and Bremerton to accommodate an ever-increasing number of Pacific North West drag racers. Pacific Raceways remains a national event caliber track but Bremerton Raceway is located on an "active" airport runway and the chores they have to go through to race every weekend has put them on more or less permanent death watch status. All this has led to a dedicated effort to re-open Shelton Drag Strip to fill the void. The event we were attending was the first fruit from years of effort by volunteers.
Gremlins kept the electronics from working properly so the racing was started by flag, just like the old days. Modern "bracket racing" was therefore impossible because there was no way to handicap the racers without starting lights and a computer. All the races were "heads up" and everyone loved it, including the racers, at least for one weekend.
Explaining "why the motor blew up" can be painful right after it happens, but the pain eased with repetition of the story. It got very old, but selling hundreds of "Shelton Drag Strip" tee shirts took a lot of the sting off. At 95 degrees and full sun, it felt good to be sitting in the shade with a cold beverage instead of sweating it out in a fire suit and helmet in the staging lanes. As the weekend wore on I became more comfortable with being a spectator, seeing all types and shapes of folks at the drags. There are always many youngsters, usually burning the heck out of themselves if the sun is out. Then there are the parents and grandparents. Drag racing is a multi generational enterprise. The oldest generation actually invented the sport, and is willing to pass on their knowledge. How cool is that?
Since I wasn't racing, I asked lots of questions and learned as much as I could about the track. A few of the people that I spoke with had not been to a drag race since Shelton closed down in 1967, a long time to go without a drag race, if you ask me! There were no stands so the spectators lined the track in folding chairs and pickup trucks, just like they did forty years ago. It was like stepping back in time. It made me realize how important the people of drag racing are. On the face of it the drag race itself is basically a pretty boring, even stupid, form of motor sport, but it has with stood the test of time because the human element is so vital. That is what makes it so much more than two loud cars driving in a straight line.
So, if you're a drag racer and your car is broken, don't worry about the lawn. Go to the races anyway, and bring as many people as you can with you. Find the oldest people you can, the dude in the "Damn Seagulls" hat chain-smoking unfiltered Pall Malls half way up the stands will do. Ask him, or whoever you find, what drag racing was like "back in the day." Go up to the kid with a clapped out Honda or Mazda rotary RX2 through 7, and ask him about his speed secrets. Get some autographs and take some snap shots for your grandkids to find. Remember -- it’s the people, and we’re all in this together.
Along with flogging all manner of Mopars down the 1320 and on the roads of his top secret island hideaway, Chris Barnes is also the originator of Wagons of Steel Magazine. Check it out at: www.wagonsofsteel.com