Drag Racing Story of the Day!
Virginia IS for Lovers!
©2002 Bill Ott
Saturday April 20, 2002
Virginia Motorsport Park
I went down to Virginia
Seeking shelter from the storm
Caught up in the fable
I watched the flowers grow **
4:45 AM... Staring at the green blob of rain covering most of the state of Virginia courtesy of The Weather Channel's Doppler Radar. Followed by a forecast for the Richmond area calling for showers all day... followed by just plain rain by Saturday night.
Guess that means it's time to change plans and go back to bed?
Nope... I promised myself, Ms. Boop, and the grandkids a day at the races... or at the very least, a day in Virginia. So, by God, let's pack up the van and head south. Full speed ahead! Hammer down! Damn the torpedoes! Hell yes! I mean, it ain't raining here, so let's just take that WITH us.
Southbound on I-81, we get through Carlisle (Pa.) before the crowds start. This is the weekend of the Spring Carlisle Swap Meet, an annual event that draws thousands of hardcore motorheads to this small town. Hey, speaking of annual events, 'gotta remember to tell Ms. Boop "Happy Anniversary."
Yep, today's also our wedding anniversary. Strange... the first few hours of our marriage started off with threats of rain, and plans to take in a Drag Race anyway. BUT, we also had Vance Hunt and crew working on their digger in the parking lot of the Georgetown Inn... right outside the room we were staying in. Don't know how we (or more precisely... I) made it through those first few hours. But Hell, that was way back in '68... and I'm still workin' on making it right.
Anyway, today we'll be heading south to Winchester, Va. and then taking the back roads (Rt. 17) to Fredericksburg, Va., pick up I-95 and then south to Dinwiddie. Cruising along, we can't help but notice the beautiful sunrise to our left... where the rain was supposed to be. Hmmm... this may all come together after all.
Stopping in Winchester for breakfast... Slurpees and coffee for all... we also got a chance to check out Easyriders Custom Motorcycles. They had four NICE customized Harleys in the showroom window. I made a mental note to drop by some day when they're open. Might leave a lot poorer.
Southbound again on the old road with the absolutely stunning Shenandoah National Park off to our right. Shenandoah is one of our favorite vacation spots, and the week after the Charleston Dragway Reunion ( June 9th ) we'll be spending a few days in a cabin at the Big Meadows just off Skyline Drive. A great place to kick back, spend some time with nature, and sample the local wines.
Further down the road we pass near a town called The Plains, home of Jim and Allison Lee and their "Great Expectations" Fueler. The Lees parked their operation back in the early eighties, but for years were real 'players' in the game, in both the front and rear engine days. Most of the other 'players' in this racehorse raising part of Virginia are polo players. These days the Lee's are involved with coordinating Professional Tennis Matches throughout the state.
Next, we pass near the infamous Summerduck Dragway, an 1/8th-mile facility of dubious reputation... but a lot of fun nonetheless. I checked out their website and found this helpful advice for finding the track... "it's just south of Opal."
We're all having a great visit and before we know it, we're south of Richmond. Time for lunch.
Right now Wendy's is giving away some cool NHRA Drag Racing toys with their Kids Meals. So we find a Wendy's and the kids and I get a Kids Meal for the toy... we all got Funny Cars. I told Ms. Boop to order anything she wants, anything... after all... it IS our anniversary.
We arrive at Virginia Motorsports Park a little after noon, and get a parking spot near the spectator side entrance. This'll be great for heading out later when this thing winds down.
Heading for the ticket booth we're treated to the bitchin' sounds of NITRO Harley Qualifying. Those babies make the ground shake, just like their bigger cousins. The buzz all weekend has been about 65 year old Ray Price and the great job he's doing with his bike. Missed seeing any of the NITRO Harley qualifying this session, but won't miss any of the next. By the way,... we've yet to see any of that rain we were promised.
Strolling through the Pro pits, we come upon Jack Ostrander's operation, TWO red diggers..., and what's this? A starter hooked to the blower snout and someone climbing in the car? That can only mean one thing... start up time. Cool, this is what I've been looking forward to. This'll be my 9-year-old granddaughter Brittany's first experience with NITRO.
I explain to her that they'll warm this baby up on alcohol and then after that they'll switch it over to NITRO and then it'll become a whole 'nuther beast. This was being kicked around recently on Header Flames... my vote for the coolest thing at the Drags... the first few seconds after a Fueler has the Methanol shut off and the NITRO turned on, talk about a change in personality. Another cool sound? That little bit quieter a NITRO engine gets when the driver switches on the second fuel pump just prior to staging or how about the scream of a blown Alcohol Dragster at the big end?
Anyway, they start the engine on alcohol and run it a minute or two... Brittany doesn't seem impressed... yet... just wait, I tell her. They shut it off, make a few adjustments, and fire it up again, on the heavy stuff. Now my eyes are just focused on her and what her reaction is going to be. Nothing... she just stands there calmly watching the show.
I make a motion at her to lift her headset away from her ears for just a second... to hear it up close and personal... she lifts them for just a second, then puts them back. THIS will really get her attention! Again, nothing, just calmly taking the whole thing in.
About this time, I've got a voice screaming inside me... "Lord, where have I failed this child!?" Then I notice it... subtle at first, but yep, there it is all right... tears running down both cheeks. This is cool... this NITRO engine has dispersed the whole crowd.... except for my granddaughter, standing there defiantly, soaking it all up! I'm about to choke from the fumes, so I motion to her, "Let's step away from this stuff." And she nods her head.
So there you have it fans... today's winner of the "Iron Man Fan Competition"... my granddaughter. That feeling of panic that swept over me earlier has now been replaced by calm. I take her hand and we step proudly into the crowd of onlookers. Another NITRO baptism that went well.
Time for the four of us to find a seat and get comfortable, before the big boys come out to play. About the time we get situated the Pro Mod cars are starting their qualifying session. Again, as last year, I'm impressed with the fast pace of the IHRA show. As soon as one pair clears the traps, the next pair is doing their burnouts. The action just keeps moving.
I don't keep up with the Pro Mod cars that much, so I'm not in a great position to make many judgment calls about their session. BUT... Fred Hahn's 6.25 @ 221 leap from #25 to #1 qualifier would have impressed anyone. Another cool one (although unfortunately, they didn't make the show) was Tommy Gray's "Undertaker" '53 Vette... with the crew wearing robes like the 'Grim Reaper' and carrying sickles. What any of that has to do with Drag Racing, I don't have a clue... but they sure were entertaining.
Ah, here we go... Top Fuel. Now we'll see some action... well maybe, way too many people standing in front of the first row of seats along the walkway. We sat in the front row so the kids could see, but all we're looking at is the backs of a bunch of six-foot tall morons. So therefore, everyone had to stand to try and see. We eventually moved up a few rows, but still had to stand, and the kids still couldn't see.
But we still had a great time, and were treated to a good session, considering the heavy atmosphere. BTW... still no rain. Vicky Fanning started things off with an off again on again pass. Seventeen year old Josh Starcher ran a 4.96 @ 295 on just his third pass ever in a Fueler. I guess maybe The Professor was right? Next to Josh, Paul Romine ran a 4.90 @ 289. Jack Ostrander made a troubled pass. Bruce Litton ran a 4.90 @ 299 while Clay Millican ran an impressive 4.82 @ 304 in the other lane. There was quite a few others out there, but we were having too good a time to keep up with it all.
Next up... the exhibition stuff. Both kids were blown away and did a double take when a wheelstanding School Bus went by. There was also a wheelie Fire Truck. K.C. Jones brought out his Cannonball Express Jet Dragster and Bob Motes' Jet Powered Kenworth put on an impressive show to close out the session.
Time for another stroll through the pits, where we wound up back at Jack Ostrander's place. As is my usual practice by now, I had my copy of Bob Post's "High Performance" with me hoping to get a few more signatures on the well-worn pages of my 'Bible'. As mentioned earlier 'Pontiac' Jack is campaigning two cars these days under the Vista Foods Exchange / Rocky Mountain Express / 300 Bowl banner. One driven by himself and the other by crewmate Louie Allison. The car driven by Louie was in the show, but Jack's mount is still on the outside, but there's one more session later tonight.
After spending a few minutes around this all volunteer crew, it became apparent that they are having way too much fun at the races. Asking for Jack's autograph drew a round of laughter from the crew, and when I said he's mentioned in the book that drew even more laughter, and THEN the comments started.
We had a nice visit with Jack and crew at the Keystone Nats. a few years ago, and today it was like we picked up right where we left off the last time. Once again Jack gave Ms. Boop free rein of his pit area and racecars with her Nikon. Hey, how many of 'ya knew Jack used to race blown fuel hydros (boats) back in the mid 70's?
Next stop... the Werner Enterprises / Clay Millican pit. We got into a lively discussion with that crew, who also seem to be having fun despite the pressure of being the reining IHRA Top Fuel Champions. After getting Clay's signature, I noticed Mike Kloeber and mentioned that he was crew chief for "The Snake" back in his Skoal Bandit Funny Car days, and although Mike isn't mentioned in my 'Bible' the car certainly is. So... another signature in the book and the start of another bench race session with Mr. Kloeber about the old days. Hell we even got into the old El Mirage Dry Lakes days.
Anyone remember that back in '93 it was Mike who tuned Jim Epler to the sport's first 300 MPH Funny Car pass at Topeka, and beat ol' Force out of a big chunk of change in the process? Mike also tuned Cristen Powell to a Top Fuel victory during her NHRA rookie season at Englishtown. Since joining Team Werner two seasons ago, Mike has nine Event victories and twelve # 1 qualifying positions, and that was at the start of THIS season... and... he ain't nowhere near done yet!
Looks like it's going to be a while before the next qualifying session. This'll be a good time to find our way back to the van and relax for a while. Sorry to bring this up again, but, the weather sure is nice this afternoon. Yep, great weather for just kicking back in the lawn chairs as the young ones sit and play their Game Boys, while plugged into their own CD players. Wow, times have really changed.
It's been quiet here now for quite a while... a nice afternoon so far. We hear a few cars start up, so seven year old Chris and myself decide to make our way to the spectator side seats to check out the action. It's a round of Quick Rod (8.90) cars. Have you ever tried to explain to someone why a racecar can't run anywhere near it's true potential in order to WIN a race? Hell... I don't even understand it!! I'm sure it takes some skill to run one of these things, but they're absolutely maddening to watch. And boring as Hell. That would explain all the empty seats.
Hooker Modified (Comp.) cars were up next. This was a pretty interesting group of vehicles... dragsters to door cars. We were having a good time watching these cars when the management announced that the final qualifying session starting time has been moved up about an hour. Good deal... as long as Top Fuel runs after dark.
Back to the van to get the girls... a blanket for our butts to sit on... and sweatshirts in case the weather turns colder (it didn't). And back again to the stands.
Got some nice seats on the very top row, about 100 feet past the starting line... in my opinion, always the best seats in the house. Lots of action those last few seconds before the cars stage and a lot of the races are won or lost in that first 100 feet. Also I have never learned to adjust for watching the cars leave before you hear it, or... hearing them leave over the PA with the sound catching up a second or so later, like happens downtrack. I get confused easily.
OK... time to get started. After a brief invocation, and the Canadian National Anthem (? WHY ?), we were treated to a great rendition of our own National Anthem by a Seaman from the Navy Choir. He did a really good job, and the crowd loved it.
Hey, guess what? RAIN. That's right as soon as we're ready to get started, the rain also starts. But after about a 30-second short burst, it's over. Didn't even really need the jet dryer... after many a year of attending the Keystone Nationals, there's no sound I've come to hate more than the jet dryer.
Up first... GM Performance Parts Top Stock. I thought this would be a yawner... was I ever wrong! These guys all ran in the mid to low 10's @ 125 MPH+, most with 350 Chevy small blocks... did bitchin' wheelies... and best of all... raced heads up! This was great racing! Just like watching Super Stock... without the dial ins.
Now it's the NITRO Harley boys turn. Again, these scooters shake the ground, big time. Man, ain't NITRO cool? Of note was Steve Stordeur smoking the tire, just like a fueler, and 65 years young Ray Price's session closing 6.37 @ 219 MPH blast that covered the rest of the field by a tenth and 11 MPH!! Another example of some guy having WAY too much fun here at the races! BTW - just about every one of these scooters carried the front wheel to about mid track... some to about the 1000 feet. mark! Cool.
The Pro Stockers now have the field. I'm not too familiar with IHRA's brand of Pro Stock, but they sure seem to run some LARGE motors. When the session ended the gap between Carl Baker's # 1 qualified Cougar and Doug Kirk's # 16 Cavalier was .067 ( 6.604 to 6.671).
Next... Funny Car. Hey, where's the NITRO? The Methanol guys (and girls) put on a decent show, with 21 floppers slugging it out for 16 slots. Crowd favorite Bunny Burkett was in the show solidly at # 5 with a 5.96 @ 239 MPH shot in one of the previous sessions. She closed this one out with a solo 6.06 @ 239. Man, the folks in these parts just love Ms. Burkett, and she always returns the favor with both her friendly demeanor and an always stout racecar.
Now it's the Pro Mod folks up at bat. An interesting array of makes, models, and years of bodies. Studebakers, Willys, 'Vettes, late model Grand Ams, '57 Chevys. If you can't find a body style that appeals to you in this group... it ain't been made yet. I think I even saw a few Camaros from the '60's and a late model Lumina. And hell... Rickie Smith brought a Dodge Viper (Qualified it at #10) to play.
When the smoke had cleared, after 38 (!) cars tried for 16 slots, Fred Hahn's earlier 6.259 blast in the Summit Racing 'Vette remained in the # 1 spot, with Al Billes '53 Studebaker rounding out the field with a 6.347. Nice close racing for cars that go this fast. Also, most of these cars sported real trick paint jobs and graphics. Nearly every car at the event could also have been a show car.
All right... time for Top Fuel. And it has darkened up enough for a good pyrotechnics show. I told Brittany about the header flame show we were about to see... and again she seemed unimpressed. FIRE UP THE FIRST PAIR !!!!
BANG!!! At the hit of the throttle Jim Head (in the far lane) goes instantly up in smoke... Bruce Litton takes off with header flames rear wing tall... and Brittany jumps about a foot off of her seat. Finally... a reaction from her... and she turns to me with an ear to ear grin. Yes sir... looks like we hooked another one!!!
This was Jim Head's last shot. Too bad, he won't make this show. Jim's always been a real innovator (something we can always use more of), as well as a player. Maybe another tuner having problems with the new "370" Goodyears? Didn't get a chance to visit with Jim like last year, to ask.
But, in the other lane, Litton laid down a stout 4.74 @ 308. Thunder!!!
Next pair... Vicky Fanning and Jack Ostrander. Jack jumps up to # 6 with a labored 5.08, while Vicky runs a troubled 5.80 but remains at # 12 with her earlier 5.64. Meant to drop by and say hello to the Fannings, but for some unknown reason, never found their pit area. Have read a lot of husband Brent's posts on Header Flames and wanted to put a face to the stories. Maybe next year.
Up now... Roger Dean in the left lane, who steps up to 5.14, but still remains at # 8 due to the shuffling field. In the other lane John Sipple put on a great show. Trailing flames from about mid track to the finish line... might have been a head gasket. John remains at # 9 from an earlier 5.37.
Next pair was scheduled to be Don Reed vs. Grant Flowers, but Reed decided to forgo making a pass, as he was already solidly in the field and wanted to save parts (and money). Grant gave it a great try running a 5.30 but unfortunately, it wasn't quick enough to make Sunday's program. Still, not a bad looking pass.
Final pair... Paul Romine in the far lane vs. Josh Starcher. Paul started mixing up cylinders and shut it off a little early. In the near lane, Josh runs an impressive 4.82 @ 300.6 MPH. Josh's pass moves him into the # 3 slot and bumps Romine down to # 4. A pretty pass by Josh... loud and fiery... it don't get NO better.
Last up... Clay Millican in the Werner digger makes a solo pass in the left lane. Nope, better make that tries to make a solo pass. Clay shook the tire right off the line and shuts it down right away. His # 2 qualifying position wasn't in any danger anyway.
So there you have it folks... Top Fuel under our belt, the whole gang with big smiles on their faces, and we ain't done yet! Nope. Time for the exhibition stuff. Starting with the wheelstanding School Bus going off with the Wheelie Fire Truck, which seems to have picked up a passenger in the form of a Dalmatian that was riding up front with the driver. These two rode side by side down track and then turned around and came back towards the starting line... wheels up.
K.C. Jones is up next with the Cannonball Express jet dragster, which is disguised to resemble an old train. As K.C. does the 'burner pops' to stage the thing... it looks and sounds like an old steam locomotive leaving town.
The final feature of the evening is once again Bob Motes in his jet powered Kenworth. Bob put on a great fire, smoke, and 'burner pop' show. Followed by all lights at the track being shut off while he makes his pass. And all of this cumulating in a huge fireworks show while Bob heads down track. The fireworks display must have went on at least another five minutes after Bob's pass. Cool. Now I can stay home and sip beer this Fourth of July!
Again, the IHRA puts on a well-rounded show, with something to appeal to everyone... without insulting your intelligence by having some moron shoot T-shirts at you between rounds. The action moves right along at a good pace with the entire program being more 'Sportsman' oriented.
And although the Big Boys of Top Fuel are out numbered, and out performed, by the 'Big Show' I left here feeling good about the show I got to see, and what it cost to see it. A well spent $ 80.00 for the four of us. And those NITRO Harleys are impossible to beat!
As soon as we're on the road headed back to Pa., both grandkids fall asleep. You know... I'm damn glad I didn't change plans this morning, after what the 'experts' on The Weather Channel had to say. Can't understand where all the rain they were showing on their Radar got to. And don't give a damn anyway.
Heading north bound in the 'Hammer Lane' on I-95 we pass by a Virginia State Trooper on the shoulder with HIS radar turned on. You know... I sure hope the unit he's using wasn't made by the same people who made The Weather Channel's Radar. More old B.S. later.
* Seen all over the State of Virginia
** ©1969 J.C. Fogerty
"Who'll Stop The Rain"
Badco would like to thank Soaps By Betty http://www.angelfire.com/wizard/soapsbybetty
for their continued support.