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Beginners Luck

Article By: Alexander Arnell

No, I wasn’t high on drugs; I was high on the dream of driving in a drag race at a real drag strip and not letting anything get in my way.

Submitted:Jan 7, 2010    Reads: 120    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

Beginners Luck
Posted for Buddy Love
For once my "Princess and the Pea" rump did not notice the protruding spring in the gray bench seat of my tri-five Chevy as I gazed down 660 feet of Texas black top. Had a camera had been focused on me at that moment it would have shown, fierce non-blinking blue eyes slightly dilated despite the bright southern sun.A tightly gripping left hand on the steering wheel twitched slightly while it rested strategically in the 12 o'clock position.My helmet clad head would have been turned slightly to the right to help me stare at a yellow light on a white Christmas tree with total concentration. No, I wasn't high on drugs; I was high on the dream of driving in a drag race at a real drag strip and not letting anything get in my way.
Bounce back to 1970; two best friends sat on a plaid green couch watching a black and white TV.The AHRA Grand American races held at Long Beach California are on the tube.After extensive burnouts the rails of Richard Tharpe and Don Garlits square off for the win. Part way down the track Garlits' car exploded splitting in two.* Good and bad things happened from this crash. Garlits lost part of his foot but, because of the accident he invented the rear engine dragster possibly saving countless lives and I decided I wanted to drag race.
You are most likely thinking that this story will be that I made drag racing my life's work and now I'm racing dragsters all across the nation like Tony Schumacher or John Force but, you would be wrong.I was already crazy about cars at that point and this TV show was just another straw on the camel's back, but not the straw. I went on in high school to own a 1969 Chevelle with a cool, in my mind, green Maaco paint job with aluminum mag wheels.However, my parents never allowed me to hot rod my car, let alone go to a drag strip.I couldn't even sneak off to the drag races because the closest track was over a hundred miles away.To make matters worse for my racing fondness, I went to college as soon as I got out of high school never to address my racing ambitions.
Jump ahead 30 years to 2000; I have lived the middle class life, wife, job, kids, and more college, then better jobs.Drag racing or having a hot rod just does not work into the equation. But as fate would have it, another good and bad event transpired. As you know why, I received a small inheritance. Equate an infusion of cash with a mid life crisis which equals me succumbing to my car fancy.I crossed another item on my bucket list by buying a tri-five Chevy. Even with a tri-five in my possession it still took 5 years to get to the drag strip.
Some good happens for me again, the Dallas Area Classis Chevy Club after a short hiatus formed yet again.Through the internet I found the reconstructed group to become a member.One of the club's events my first year as a member was drag racing at the Texas Motorplex in the Texas Muscle Car Challenge. I did not attend due to family oblations yet; I gorged myself looking at a photo montage and video of the event on the club's web page.That gorging sparked a fire that was kindled 35 years ago.
My interest sparked, I started by researched how to drag race on the web.To be honest I was a little afraid I would not know the culture of the written and unwritten rules of the game.In addition to my internet studies I found that being in a club was great because I had a group of mentors who coached me when I went to the track my first time.I may have started racing on my own although, it was a whole lot easier to start with friends.Confident, I packed my tools in the trunk and headed out to the Drag strip in Denton, Texas.
April 26 and the weather man predicted that before the day would be over it will be close to 100 degrees.As I drove my tri-five Chevy up to the gate of the drag strip at 9 o'clock in the morning I could already feel the heat of the day starting as white popcorn clouds began to form in the bright blue sky.I sat sweltering in my non-air-conditioned car while a line of 20 or so cars before me pass through the gate. In front of me is a bright orange Super Bee on a trailer that confirmed I have come to the correct place for my race.After a 20 minute wait I arrived at the pay shack.While I am handed a release of liability form to sign the ticket girl asked me what class I am racing in today.She had no idea how much her simple statement meant to me, "I'm a drag racer," I mused. After a brief pause I replied, "I'm guessing that my car will run around 10 seconds in the 1/8 mile." After the ticket girl looked at a chart she informed me that I would be in the Street Muscle class. I paid $25 and took possession of a participant's paper bracelet.
Holding the bracelet in my teeth, I release the clutch to move ahead.Rolling, I shifted into second gear.In the pits now, I scanned for a club mate's white enclosed car trailer that I and a hand full of club mates had made plans to be our base camp.My club mate saw me before I saw him.As he waved me down, I waved back then let him direct me to a parking spot next his trailer.After greetings and salutations, I headed back to my car to put on my bracelet and to unpack.Stored in the tri-five I have most of my tools from my garage, a cooler of drinks and my spare tire and jack. To reduce weight for a faster ET I removed these items.
All around me, I watched different participants ready their cars.I observed guys roll their cars off of their trailers, put on slicks and tinker with their motors.The track had an old squeaky public address system but one could hardly hear the throwback 70's music the system played over the drone of gas powered generators and the roaring car engines.I just set in my lawn chair to watch since; my car was a street car requiring no more preparation.I just planed to run what I brung.
After what seem like the longest time, I heard an echoed call over the PA for my class to go line up for tech inspection. Once I drove through the pits from my parking spot I found an ink pen in the glove box that I used to fill out my tech card while sitting on the multi lined staging area. At the time I was worried about passing tech.After all, my car was almost 50 years old.I had spent hours reading the NHRA rules for my speed class.I bought several aftermarket parts, such as a radiator over flow bottle and a double spring throttle return, to make my car fall within the rules.
A track official came to my rolled down window and said, "You have your tech card?" I handed him my filled out card.The official glanced over the front of the card before he turned it over to take look at the back for a signature. As I waited for instructions the guy said, "Usually most people just put the tech card under the windshield wiper," I said, "OK," as the track worker walked away. "So much for worrying about passing tech," I said aloud to myself.
As I waited, I noticed most of the racers were getting out of their cars, another case of hurry up and wait I presumed.Wanting to fit in, I got out of my car to join my fellow racers in conversation.I had several questions which the guys waiting with me were very helpful with answering.
Without warning the track officials started waving us towards the track.I see we are going to have our practice runs grouped together with the street class. As drove forward on a two lane black top to the track, I started to get ready.I pulled on my helmet, almost yanking off an ear in the process, rolled up the windows, locked my door and put on my lap seat belt.
Things are starting to go fast.Just as I finished fastening my helmet chin strap it is my turn to run the strip.As a track worker holding a push broom wearing gray bib overall shorts waved me onto the track I looked to my right to see I am racing a late model truck from the slower class.Turing back to face the track I saw the water pit.I choose to drive around the water pit so as to not let my street tires wet the track. An unwritten rule I was later to find out is universally ignored. My car does not have a limited slip differential therefore; I only have power to 1 wheel.Not out of necessity but out of tradition, and with a little embracement, I spun my tire.
Slowly, I inched my car to the staging line.Creeping, I cross an electric beam to light the first staging light.I waited until my opponent pre staged his car.With us both pre staged, I roll forward ever so slightly. The second light came on and I'm staged.Soon, we are both staged and the first of the three yellow lights on the Christmas tree shines.I am staring at the third yellow light.From my research on the net, I know I need to pop the clutch and start racing when the third yellow light comes on. If I waited for the green light before I left the line it would be too late.
Lights rolling, I rev my engine up to 2000 RPMs and number 3 shines.I pop the clutch and hit the gas.Bam, my car jumps off the line and I on my way.I know that if I floor the throttle too fast out of the hole I will spin the tire so; I peddled the throttle the first 20 feet or so before I get it floored. Hooked up, I run the engine up to 5000's RPM's then shift into second.I am rewarded by a chirp of the tire as I slam the gear shifter into second gear.5000 again and I shift into third gear and then I am finished.
As I shut down I happily notice that I have won.I have beaten someone's truck that they used to tow their real race car to the track.
While I think, "A win's a win," I coast around to my parking space.One of my club mates hand me a timing slip.I check it out and I almost jump for joy because I had made a 9.2 second run, only to find out that I had someone else's slip.After some shuffling of timing slips, I found my slip to learn I didn't quit run that good.
Each racer got two time trial races before the elimination began.The second time trial I was only able to consternate on the mechanics of the race.That absorption made me not notice who I was racing. I had to look at my timing slip to see what happened.The slip told me I beat my opponent by a tenth of a second even after he red lighted.
After a brief engine cool down period and a lunch break of a greasy hamburger and soggy fries with a diet coke, the track officials called the first elimination bracket of my racing class.I drove through the pits to the staging lanes to line up in lane 3 behind a purple 2005 GTO. Lined up next to me is my opponent, a mid 70's Trans Am. He has dialed in a faster time than me by 2 tenths of a second.
We move forward towards the strip and I get ready.I take the left lane and drive around the water.I do not do a burn out because now I am obsessed that heating up the tire may give me too much traction that could make my 7.5 inch 10 bold rear end break, thus not allowing me to drive home.Pre staged I wait for my opponent. When I stage, I try just too barely turn on the second staging light.There is a 6 inch space between the pre stage line and the starting line. I try to give myself plenty of space behind the starting line. I do so because, I don't have a line lock and I am afraid I might roll over the line and red light.
Yellow, Yellow, Yellow go, my car screamed in first gear.Already, I am 2 car lengths behind.I power shift into second then third.I stayed two car lengths behind never able to catch the Trans Am.Sad that I lost, I drove back to the pits thinking my day was over. As I make a turn into my parking spot I notice that my club mates seem very happy."Too happy," I think, "for a loss."Rolling down my window they start slapping me on the back yelling, "You won! He red lighted."I realized that the reason that the Trans Am beat me out of the hole was that he just could not wait for the green.I'm a winner of my first elimination race!
The next elimination, I drew the purple GTO.She has dialed in a couple of tenths faster than I am for this race.The green light flashed and I'm briefly in the lead when I break traction that allowed the GTO to pull ahead of me by a car length.I go through the gears and start to draw my bumper even with her car door.I think I can pass her but she is sand bagging me by flooring it for the win, or so I think.Joy, rapture, the GTO has broken out.I made her drive a tenth under her dial in.Again, I am the winner of the drag race.
My next win was the easiest of all races, a bye run.Since there was not an even number of cars the officials gave me the bye.To determine who got the bye was made by using a deck of cards.I really to this day do not know how they determined how I was the winner but, when they said I won, I said, "OK."
I had a theory about bracket racing when I started.My theory was to try not to beat myself.I did not force my starts so, that I will not red light. I chose a dial in time that was faster than my best time trial so, I don't break out.Later, as I moved up into a more spirited class I had to become less cautious to stay competitive, but this is what I was doing at the time. But, in the last race of the day, I made a decision that went against my careful approach.I was running 2 tenths slower now with the 98 degree heat of the afternoon. With that fact in mind, I decided to change my dial in time to a 9.90.A smart choice I was soon to find out.
The final elimination was soon upon me.I lined up in the right lane against a red 1980 Corvette.Studying my competition, I learn that a middle aged man had his teenage son driving the Corvette in the race.By reading the Corvette's ET on its window I saw I am running almost 3 tenths faster.Subsequently, I realized he will get the green light before I will get mine.I mull over that I must really concentrate on only my side of the tree.I must remember that the Corvette will leave before I will to start my run.I can not let this make me false start and red light. Staged, the lights turn yellow then green and first he, and then I take off.I cut a good light, hit the gas hard and as luck would have it the tire hooked up. Even so, the Corvette is still a car and a half length in front of me due to the staggered tree. Chasing after the Corvette, I long shifted to 5200 rpm's then hit second gear.Shifting hard into third, I pulled up nose to nose with the Corvette to finally past for the win in the last 10 feet.
I do not celebrate until I find if I have a clean run.Holding my breath, I walked with butterflies in my stomach up to the timing tower.Waiting for me are my club mates.I can't tell from the way they are looking at me if I'm a winner or a looser."Well," I said? They burst out, "You won…you won your first eliminator!"
My final elimination was not my best reaction time or the best ET however; I ran within a ½ a tenth of my dial in time.My best dial of the day.
While I was being slapped on the back and got my hand shook I said, "Is this a great sport or what?"
I would race for another 3 years becoming top eliminator twice more. Finally, life would again intervene and I retired from racing still, that day in April was best of every 12 year old boy's dream.
*This race may or may not been on TV that day but, this is the way I wish to remember the story. The car I saw explode that day could have been just another rail blowing in two for all I know. I searched the net but could not confirm or deny my memory claim.


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