Drag racers having a gas at Nikiski strip

Annual Hot Rod Reunion blossoms into regular series at Soldotna airport this summer

Posted: Monday, June 05, 2000

Last year at this time, after the first Fronna Snelson Memorial Alaska Hot Rod Reunion, all the talk was about how there should be more drag racing on the Kenai Peninsula.

This year, after the reunion again packed the parking lot at McGahan Industrial Airport Saturday and Sunday, last year's talk has turned to action.

That action was signified by the schedule the Nikiski Cook Inlet Lions-Racing Division had available at the concessions stand. The schedule outlines a whole summer of door-handle-to-door-handle drag-racing action.

"At last year's show, we realized there sure was a lot of interest in drag racing on the peninsula," said Gene Chambers of the Lions. "We're going to be having races all summer.

"People are sick of going all the way up to Palmer."

Alaska Raceway Park in Palmer is the closest place that holds regular drag racing. But all that will change starting June 23, when the Lions begin setting up at the Soldotna airport for racing. The actual racing will be June 25 from noon to 6 p.m.

Derek Snelson, who organizes and promotes the annual Alaska Hot Rod Reunion in honor of his late mother, said it is gratifying to see drag racing taking hold on the peninsula.

"I'm a third-generation racer," said Snelson, who hit 180 mph Saturday in the Northern Light jet dragster. "My mother was born on the peninsula, so I've always wanted drag racing to succeed here."

Just as they did last year, peninsula residents showed at the reunion they were no stranger to drag racing.

In the closest race of the weekend on the 1/8-of-a-mile drag strip, Soldotna's Dean Scroggins, in a 1970 Camaro, defeated the 1972 Chevy Vega of Kenai's Cody McCollum by one-hundredth of a second. The race was the final round of one of the two match classes held Sunday.

Both said the key to the race was controlling the power of their cars on the surface at McGahan Industrial Airport.

"The race was determined off the start by who was easiest on the throttle," said Scroggins, who has been going to Palmer to race for about 12 years. "The surface is nothing like Palmer.

"You have to take it easy on the pedal."

McCollum agreed with Scroggins as he rubbed his shoes over the pavement and pointed out some of the loose stones lying on the surface.

"I tried to leave too fast -- I was too aggressive," said McCollum, who has been racing in Palmer for 11 years. "I had way too much power for the traction I could get on this surface."

Both Scroggins and McCollum are looking forward to laying rubber down at the Soldotna airport with the Lions.

"That's great," McCollum said. "I can go out there and race for a few dollars, as opposed to going to Palmer and spending several hundred dollars to get up there."

In the other match race offered Sunday, Anchorage's Dwayne Lile defeated a super comp dragster in his 1971 Chevy Vega. The match series was best two out of three.

"I'll keep coming down here as long as it doesn't interfere with my points in Palmer," Lile said.

Sunday's racing featured two other classes -- the seven-second class and the eight-second class.

Soldotna's Michelle Ulen, one of two female drivers Sunday, took the seven-second class in her father's 1936 hot rod Chevy pickup.

Ulen's father, Bill Banta, won the Street Class at last year's reunion in the same vehicle.

"He lets me race the car because I get more consistent times than he does," Ulen said.

The key to Ulen's victory in the final race was her reaction time. The other car actually covered the course quicker, but because Ulen got off to a quicker start, she won.

"They say women have a better reaction time," Ulen said. "That was a tough race. If we had to race another 10 feet, he would have won."

The winner of the eight-second class Sunday was Nikiski's 19-year-old John Thirlwell. Thirlwell took the honors in his 1968 Impala, a car as fast as his learning curve in drag racing.

Thirlwell, who has spent about four years working on the Impala, drag raced for the first time Saturday and struggled. However, by Sunday he had things figured out enough to tally the victory.

"The reaction time is the main thing," Thirlwell said. "Yesterday, I didn't have it down at all. It's just about practicing watching the lights."

The Lions are holding meetings at the Moose Lodge in Kenai every Wednesday at 7 p.m. until their first race. The general public is welcome.

For more information, contact Don at 283-2793 or Wendy at 260-3305.

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