This Irresistible Grasp
©2002 Bill Ott
Sunday, May 19, 2002
Raceway Park, E-Town, N.J.
A Bills-eye view of Englishtown. Photo by Bill Ott
A dream unthreatened by the morning light
Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night
There's no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation... a state of bliss**
Pre-flight Checklist: Hmmm... Let's see... Wings...
check, Propeller... check, Seat Belts... check, Camera... check, Tape
Recorder... check. "OK ... we can take off now." All
of the critical stuff has been checked out and is in proper working order.
Let's get ol' 'Saratoga 8473 Charlie' pointed straight towards Runway
26, airborne, and headed due East... quick! After all, it's
already 8:45 AM and Raceway Park is still a whole 45 minutes away. I
figure that'll leave us with 90 minutes to wander around the
pits before first round. Man, I can smell the NITRO already!!
After taxiing over to Runway 26 we make one
final Pre-Flight Check (double checked to make sure I remembered a
notebook and pen) when another single engine aircraft... just like ours...
pulls up and stops just to our left. Seems they're also going to be taking
off on (off-on?) the same runway. So here we are, parked side by
side, checking flaps, stabilizers, etc., with the engines revving. COOL!!
Who'da thought First Round might happen right here at Capitol City
Airport? Unfortunately the people in the tower (and the FAA) frown on
'Street Racing' these things, so we wait patiently while the other
aircraft takes off. Too bad... would'a been fun! We follow them down the
runway, up into the sky, get our headings and head off our separate ways.
Hey, you know those strange folks that bring us the news
and weather every evening? Well they're still insisting that
we're in the middle of a drought... but who could tell with all of the
rain that's fell here in Harrisburg these past few days? Even heard that
Raceway Park had to cancel the Friday night Pro Qualifying Session and
delay the start of Saturday's sessions due to the wet stuff.
However, this morning we've been blessed with one of
those beautiful Chamber Of Commerce type sunrises everyone hopes for. Yep,
we got us a beauty... just don't venture outdoors without at least a
sweater on. Forty one crisp degrees this late in May just ain't natural!
But, I brought along a jacket. Yes, and gloves, and
sweatshirt, hell even got the 'ol Long Johns out... just in case.
According to the airport weather, the temperature is the same chilly forty
one over in E-Town.
OK... time to settle back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Oh, forgot to mention, today we've got "the good DR. Bob" at the
helm, and my own personal pilot "Treetop Al" sitting in the
second chair. Our original plan was to cruise at about 5500 feet but we
soon ran into some heavy cloud cover, it started to get a little
choppy, and visibility dropped to about zero. Moving up to 7500
feet put us well above the clouds and things settled down nicely again.
Kicking back once more, the conversation returns to
today's much anticipated Finals. These two guys usually make our
annual trek to E-Town their only race each season... Man, I
couldn't live that way!!! But both guys keep pretty busy
schedules... so we make the most of this one.
Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
Unheeded warnings, I thought I'd thought of everything**
Descending back through the cloud cover as we approach
Old Bridge Airport is weird enough for someone who doesn't spend a
lot of time in planes like this... it's that zero visibility thing
again... but, what little I can see out there is more than enough. It
seems that in a matter of just a few seconds the windshield AND wings are
covered with a sheet of ice! Damn... and I forgot to bring along my
de-icers... have to remember to add them to the next year's Checklist!
We see a hole below us in the cloud cover and head straight for it...
as soon as we're back in the sunshine the ice disappears as quickly
as it appeared. The pass over the track, final approach, and landing are
as smooth as glass... as usual. Again, don't forget, we've got
TWO seasoned flyers up front.
Taxiing to the parking area we pass by Mr. Kalitta's
twin jet monster... man that's a BIG plane. But before we get
parked our attention is focused skyward again as we watch a beautiful
silver Learjet make it's landing. Wow... now here's an airplane that
probably weighs about three times as much as ours does and
probably touched down at about 75 MPH faster than ours, but yet, needs
about HALF as much runway as ours needed to get stopped!!! Also runs a
little over a grand an hour to operate... nowhere near much
as a NITRO motor... but, a hell of an airplane nonetheless.
This brings to mind one of life's important lessons I
learned years ago... there's always someone who has a bigger, louder,
shinier, faster... and most importantly... more expensive toy, than you
got!! Always been that way, and always will stay that way.
After securing the plane, getting squared away with the
parking lot attendant (yeah, they really have one), we enter through the
back gate, and head for the racecars. Hey, just like last year... the
first Pro car we came upon is Greg Anderson's Pro Stock Chevy. Got to say
hello to Greg and the crew and offer congrats for the good job they (and
the whole Pro Stock bunch, for that matter) have done this season. By the
way... seems ALL the pro stockers performance numbers took a giant leap
this weekend. Starting with Jim Yates' 6.774 #1 Qualifier (and new
track record), W.J.'s 203.03 top speed of the qualifying sessions
(and another track record), and Richie Stevens' on the bubble 6.815
rounding out the quickest field in history (and the .41 spread made it one
of the closest). I also understand that many of the 33 P/S teams entered
ran career best ETs speeds, or both. Killer atmosphere!!
Over in the NITRO ranks... Tony Pedregon's pole sitting
4.777 was another track record. Speaking of NITRO... the fans here are the
best. Saw scores of them carrying their own gas masks (or
breathing apparatus if you must), some of them appearing to be World War
II surplus (the masks, not the fans). These are the hard core "True
Believers" and they seem to outnumber their brethren at all the other
venues I've attended, at least two to one. Personally, I get by fine with
an old shop towel, but to each his own. We got our NITRO dose,
and still had time to find a good spot along the fence before the start of
the first round. No comment on the opening ceremonies this time... I was
taught if you can't say anything good... don't say anything at all. But,
the skydivers with the U.S. Flag and the R.F.C. Chaplain's invocation
were great, like always.
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
standing alone, my sense reeled**
Now... about that first round... hell, how about that
first round first pair? Cory Mac and Mark Kinsella? Mark appeared to drop
a cylinder at the hit of the throttle. When they passed by us, they
were literally neck and neck with Kinsella trailing one rather impressive
fireball, which resulted in an even more impressive Ka-boomer further
downtrack. Man, you could feel the heat from that puppy!
But the Kinsella Ka-boomer was really no laughing
matter. Maybe the worst since the 90% rule? The engine plate / clutch can
combination along with part of the crankshaft and a few rods (and possibly
the reverser) left the car as one unit, bounced from the right lane
over to the left guardwall then FLEW back across the track,
over the concrete barrier on the right side, and made it
about midway across the grass before ever touching the ground again.
And it STILL bounced along for quite a ways before it finally rolled
to a stop. The crowd fell silent while we all watched this thing fly
around. Fortunately, all of this took place past the end of the
grandstands, out in the wide open spaces. The man upstairs must really
love Drag Racers. NHRA's stringent safety regs don't hurt, either. Another
potential tragedy averted.
Some way to get things started, no? We knew the cleanup
from this mess would take a while, so it seemed now would be a good
time to cross over to the spectator side and its 'cheap seats'.
Plenty of room to sit over here... even found seats in the front row... no
problem with those in front standing up. Actually... what's up with all of
these empty seats at a National Event? Which brings me to this point
AGAIN. It seems as though here on the East Coast, when the fire up a NITRO
motor, it means... everyone must now STAND! Why? While to our friends on
the West Coast the same sound means... time to sit.
I remember my first visit to Bakersfield... as a NITRO
car was fired up and approaching the line... I did what I was taught
back home. I stood. Well, as soon as I did, I realized this move made me
'persona non grata' with this whole crowd. How embarrassing to catch even
the ire of your friends. I learned that the fence and the top row of the
stands were reserved for those who want to stand... nowhere else. But you
know what? We ALL could see a whole lot better with everyone sitting. You
should try it sometime.
After about a twenty minute delay we're back in
action... lots of tire smoke in the next couple of pairs... the Spirit Of
New York/Yankees car lost again in the first round (maybe time to re-think
that off season personnel change?).
Ah, here we go, round four Rhonda Hartman-Smith vs.
Chris Karamesines. The Greek cut an uncanny .404 light (after an
even more telepathic .400 light at the Southern Nats. in Atlanta
two weeks ago) that put him way out on Rhonda, who then passed him by mid
track, only to start dropping cylinders. The Greek was
closing the gap real fast, but ran out of race track. Too bad. Made a
mental note to go see The Greek as soon as this round ends... more on that
The seventh pair saw Kenny Bernstein run a fine 4.59 to
defeat an up in smoke Jim Head. In final pairing Larry Dixon Jr. ran
a stout 4.55 to one up Kenny... hope these two last to the
final. Dixon's opponent in the right lane (Don Sosenka) still seems to be
having a lot of fun at these races and had everyone talking about his new
burnout philosophy... smokeless. Very interesting. I assume something went
wrong on the burnout. Back over on Dixon's side of the track... crew chief
Dick LaHaie has installed a wheelie bar on the Miller car, and it carried
the front wheels picture perfect on this pass. A true thing of beauty,
with the front wheels just dangling lightly in the air about the
first 150 feet out.
Next up - Funny Car. First pair pits John Force against
Tim Wilkerson with Wilkerson having lane choice. The 'ol truck driver
hasn't had the best of outings here this weekend... John could only manage
a best of 5.04, putting him in the 15th slot. He left on Wilkerson but
went up in smoke pretty quick. From then on, it was all Wilkerson. Looks
like Densham or Bazemore (or both) might get to play catch up today.
The third pairing found Johnny Gray and Dean Skuza in a
pedaling duel until Skuza's blower finally said "Enough!"
and blasted the body right off the chassis. The body looked real pretty
floating back down to the track surface... 'kinda slow motion like.
I'll be watching for this one on tonight's replay. Gray got the win.
Seems like most of the rest of the pairings were
pedaling matches (except the last pair)... which don't look so great on
TV, but are great to watch when you're actually there. Fun.
The last pair of this first round featured Scotty Cannon
and Whit 'Speed Racer' Bazemore. After all of the previous smokers this
pairing was a great match up... no smoke here... Bazemore won a close one
on a hole shot 5.89 to Scotty's 5.88. Hated to see Cannon lose on a good
pass like that one. If Scotty ever gets consistent, look out. But, the
'Speed Racer' did his job, and did it well. By the way, Gary Densham won
his round too. Might see some re-shuffling on the points
standings before the day is through.
We talked a lot through the Pro Stock rounds... we only
have this one event each year to get caught up, remember? Did get to see a
few good staging duels though. Next thing I knew, I was listening to the
aggravating sounds of the PS/B's doing their burnouts. Time to walk
through the pits.
Hey! Been trying to get the Greek's signature since
'61... think today might be the day? Damn right... at 1:15 PM on Sunday,
May 19th 2002, I finally got it! Time for a cold one! I told the Greek how
long I've been trying to chase him down... he didn't seem
too impressed. Man, 'ya 'gotta love this guy's operation. They pull
the Team Strange trailer behind a pickup... just like the old days. First
time I saw the Greek run, he was making exhibition runs at Atco with
"The Chizler." That's the same car that ran 204 back in
'59. That day was also the first time I saw Dick Belfatti's
Ran into Parker Johnstone and reminisced briefly about
the days when he was Camel Lights champ on the old IMSA GTP series. Loved
to watch those big Prototype coupes run at Watkins Glen... also...
The Glen was one hell of a fun place to be over those weekends. I believe
Drag Racing's own Pat Foster was heavily involved in the development of
the # 83 Nissan, driven by Geoff Brabham, that so completely dominated
that series back in the late 80's or early 90's (CRS?). Parker is doing a
great job behind the mike nowadays, seems real enthusiastic about what
he's doing... it comes across nicely on camera. Hey, that Dunn guy ain't
doing bad either, is he?
Time to head back over to the 'Cheap Seats', they're
pushing the Fuelers through the crowds here in the pits now. Oh, I
did get to snort some more NITRO... all in all... a nice between
rounds break. Love this place, man!
Of interest during this round of Top Fuel was... Scott
Weis making a full pass (until the motor let go) with one chute
deployed... that musta been some kinda' tire shake, eh?... K.B. running a
4.54 in the middle of the day (the sun's out and beating down on the
track, but the air's still nice and cool), so far the quickest
ET of the entire event... and Larry Dixon carrying the front wheels a few
hundred feet again... love those pretty wheelies!
The opening of this round of Funny Car saw 'ol John
Force himself standing in the staging area watching all of the action.
Man, this guy can just stand there with his arms folded and STILL get a
round of applause from the crowd. I read years ago where John said he
admired Richard Petty so much because people cheered for him when he did
nothing... John, you're in the same spot now. People love 'ya.
Of note... Sarver and Wilkerson's round opening pedaling
duel with Sarver winning 6.90 to 6.91! That one was fun to watch...The
Cruzer and Bob Gilbertson's identical reaction time pairing that
Gilbertson won... Bazemore sending Tony P. home... Densham winning his
round with a 4.83. Bazemore won his round with a 4.85, and these two will
meet in the next round... 'gonna be COOL!
During this Pro Stock round we were treated to another
good old fashioned starting line 'burndown' between Mark Osborn and
Gene Wilson (who?) that lasted at least a minute. Seems like 'ol Rick
Stewart AKA 'The Iceman' enjoyed this opportunity to relax between
pairings. Sometime I'd love to watch 'em BOTH sit for a minute after
lighting both bulbs... that would be fun to watch too!
Here come the bikes... here goes me.
Wandering around the pit area again, I ran into an old
truck drivin' pal Dave Carr and his twin brother Al (who also drives a
truck). These guys are from the Boston area and attend this event and the
Finals at Pomona every year. Some year I'm 'gonna tag along
with them to the Pomona race. These guys are identical twins and
a whole lot of fun to be around, those Boston accents are a lot of fun
too! Had a quick chat with Del and Chuck Worsham. Neither seemed real
happy with the CSK car's performance this weekend. I thought it ran great.
The Worsham's are one of my favorite teams.
I arrived back at my seat with Dr. Bob and Treetop
Al just in time for the start of the next round. Cool stuff... Rhonda
Hartman red lighting away a chance to take out Larry Dixon, he smoked the
tires about mid track. A win here would have elevated Rhonda to Superstar
status, LaHaie/Dixon don't miscue often... K.B. taking out Tony
Schumacher. Tony also went up in smoke about mid track. That'll give
Budweiser lane choice over Miller Lite in the Final. 'Gonna be great!
Funny Stuff... Sarver winning the semi, and on fire in
the shutdown area (again)... Densham taking out Bazemore with a fine
4.81... Bazemore smoking the tires at mid-track and still running in the
fours (barely though, a .99).
Looks like Greg Anderson will meet Jeg in the final.
Greg (not Jeg) will have lane choice. Who cares about the bikes?
Time for another stroll through the pits. I seem to be
getting a lot of exercise today... it's a damn long walk from the Cheap
Seats to the pits. Stopped by the display for the Old Time Drags and Funny
Car Reunion that will be taking place here on July 28th. Jerry Smith had
his "First Love" Chevy II on display along with Dave Sano's
Corvette. Dave's 'Vette is the former John Force/Wendy's car, hard
to recognize now, with a pretty blue paint job... but, a great
advertisement for Dave's Custom Paint shop. Lou Sgro and Bob Rositty are
also going to bring their nostalgia F/C's. Lou and Bob will probably make
a few passes. Bruce Larson's 'gonna bring the USA 1 Camaro to make a few
passes, also... "Jungle Pam" Hardy, "Berserko" Bob,
and a whole host of other 'dignitaries' are planning on attending. check
for more info.
One thing I've noticed a lot of today in the Pro pits...
blistered tires. Hadn't heard anything about this phenomena, but that's
what they appeared to be to this untrained eye. Did see a lot of mid track
smoke, though. Hmm, is it something about the tires or today's
unreal atmospheric conditions?
Finals time. First up - Alcohol Funny Car...
local guy and seven time World Champ Frank Manzo put away Bobby
Martin with an un-godly 5.54 that tied Tony Bartone's National Record...
his 259.91 MPH speed on this pass may be the fastest ever for the
class... AND this win ties him with "The Snake" for all
time National Event wins. All in all, not a bad afternoon for the
Alcohol Dragster - found Art Gallant's unblown NITRO
burner against Duane Shields TAD. Duane set a 5.28 National Record earlier
in the day and ran a .30 to take out Gallant, and his dragster was real
consistent all day. The boys from Nevada also has a good afternoon.
PS/B - ....^%%&@))00&^$/?>><<<
Pro Mod - Fred Hahn took out Troy Critchley for his
first win of the season 6.26 to 6.34.
Pro Stock - A jubilant Greg Anderson took out Jeg. Greg
left first and got there quicker, 6.80 to Jeg's 6.81. A great win for Greg
and the Vegas General Construction Cavalier.
Funny Car - If Densham wins this round against Sarver,
he'll take the points lead from 'The Boss'... but who's 'gonna know? Gary
is running 'The Boss' Castrol GTX body (what's up with that?). On the
green Sarver smoked 'em but Densham (I guess it was Densham) pedaled
nicely to recover from some tire shake and ran a 5.04 @ 316 (
damn right he recovered!) to take the best of Sarver, who gave it up. If
that really was Densham (?) in the John Force car (?) (man, am I
getting confused!))) then he (Densham) just took the points lead away from
OK, Top Fuel Time - It appears from this angle that
nobody has switched bodies, paint jobs, drivers. etc. for this pair. But,
then again, it coulda been the same driver in BOTH cars (top that one
Force), judging by the identical reaction times. A good Drag Race with
Larry carrying the front wheels again, but Kenny's Tim and Kim Richards
tune up just flat out running the Miller car. Hey, wonder who taught Kim
how to tune a Fuel motor? Hint: he was standing there at the starting
Didn't notice if Dixon lost a cylinder or had any other
problems... it was over too quick. K.B.'s 4.60 handling Dixon's 4.81 (who
ran in the 4.50's all afternoon, except for the semis). Matter of fact,
BOTH guys ran in the .50's first three rounds! Not sure who's doing what
in the points chase now... but it's 'gotta be close.
Heading back to the plane (De plane! De plane!) heard
Kenny being interviewed over the PA, and he commented on how much he likes
this place. Well, let me tell you what, he ain't the only one. I always
have a great time at this facility. The fans are great... the track is
always up to the job... and the atmospheric conditions are always superb.
Moving this event from mid-summer to spring was one of the smartest things
the 'powers that be' in Glendora ever did.
Off in the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back**
There's the Capitol City Airport coming into view
straight ahead. Hey, these guys NEVER get lost. Seems like we just
left Old Bridge Airport a few minutes ago... actually, it was thirty five
minutes ago, but who's counting after a great day like this? Hell,
I'm ready for next year now!
I keep hearing whispers about the Englishtown facility
being on the auction block... now that both Knapp brothers have passed
away. But, I'm also hearing about a road racing course being added, and I
did notice that some sort of construction project was in progress while
'up there'. And I also saw some construction equipment parked nearby. So,
who knows? Anyway, this just helps add to the mystique of this place. I've
been to a few different tracks over the years, but this one and Norwalk
(Ohio) are in a class all by themselves. How can you escape this
irresistible grasp? More old B.S. later.
PS. - I'd like to thank Soaps by Betty www.angelfire.com/wizard/soapsbybetty
for their continuing support.
**©1986 Pink Floyd
"Learning To Fly"
Music Publishers Inc.