Go Fly a Kite
By Gary Peters
I can't remember what year it was, but this little
story is about some of the entertainment the tracks would provide for the
fans. Usually this took place before the first round of top fuel
qualifying and also before the first round of eliminations. Everyone who
ever went to the drags knows what I'm talking about. There would be
wheelstanding cars of all types, like the Hemi Under Glass. There were
folks who seemed totally from the outer limit TV show, like Benny the Bomb
who would blow himself up. The one I remember most was a fellow who went
by the name of Kite Man.
I believe we were racing at Epping, New Hampshire, when
this unforgettable occurrence took place. Now personally, I felt the folks
who were doing the entertainment certainly had every right to do what they
did best, especially someone who would want to blow themselves up. All we
ever did was launch a blower into the air now and then. Nothing too
spectacular about that, unless of course you were driving or paying for
the parts. These little pockets of entertainment always drove me nuts.
There you sat with your car and the driver strapped in. First round was
always a nerve racking time until the engine fired. So you sat there while
a car drove up and down the track, doing a big wheelie, throwing sparks
out the back, not once but time after time. I usually just sat on one of
the rear slicks ‘til it was all over.
Kite Man's act went something like this. The time
period was just about when hang gliding started to become popular. Kite
Man wore a big pair of water skis and held a hang glider wing over his
head. Attached to the frame of the hang glider was a rope attached to an
older car's bumper. You didn't expect the car to run very fast down a
drag strip. That wasn't its purpose. The car would pull ahead ‘til all
of the play was out of the rope. Kite Man would give the signal, and the
car would pull away. Down the track he'd go sliding on the skis, the
glider wing would create lift, and Kite Man went soaring through the air.
He would go as high as the rope would allow him to go. He would release
the rope, fly around the track in circles, and land back on the track's
surface with the skis. He performed his first flight before qualifying. I
thought, jeez, is that it? How about a little smoke from his shoes or
Now the Wheelstanders weren't too bad; they completed
their drill fairly quickly. The Benny the Bomb types took longer. Think
about it: when would you push the button on the detonator? And then they
had to clean up the remains of what ever they were in, sometimes a car,
sometimes an outhouse, along with Benny type shorts. Kite Man took
forever. He would struggle with the big skis on his feet. The car needed
to be in place. The play in the rope needed to be stretched perfectly, or
Kite Man's arms would be a little longer. We pushed our car into the
staging lanes and I saw Kite Man getting ready. On this day, I was
particularly annoyed. It was hot, it was a big race event, and I knew Dale
would be sweating in his fire suit. We position the car, I get an umbrella
to shade Dale, and take my seat on the tire.
I'm sitting there thinking this isn't too bad. A
nice breeze started blowing across the track. I'm actually enjoying the
show. Kite Man gives the signal, his driver punches the throttle on the
1948 Dodge club coupe, and he's off, sliding down the track. I never
really paid much attention to the telephone pole set back along the edge
of the track. Kite Man just starts to lift off the ground, a gust of wind
blows him sideways, and he smacks right into the telephone pole and wires.
It sounded like you threw a five pound piece of raw meat onto a marble
slab. Kite Man's two arms and legs are stretched out in front of him,
with the pole in the middle. Honestly, he looked like Wile E Coyote from a
Road Runner cartoon. Next thing you know, he's sliding down the
telephone pole and hits the ground. I thought, boy that must have hurt, I'll
bet he got splinters all over him. It sure looked funny at the time, until
I realized he could be hurt.
What made me think that getting splinters would be his
biggest problem? I guess it just did not seem real at the time. The whole
thing just looked like part of his act. The track ambulance comes rushing
up to pick up Kite Man. I walked over knowing I could do little to help.
When they moved him it looked as if he had broken every bone in his body.
There was no sign of movement from the man. To this day I don't know how
badly he was hurt. Hopefully he recovered. I often think of this poor
fellow and what became of him. Well I guess everyone took their chances
back in the old days. We had to wait about an hour ‘til the ambulance
returned to the track to start the race. I never saw a Kite Man type act