In drag racing, drivers attempt to reach their top speed before the pavement can run out beneath them. The cars shoot off with a boom, drive the line and finish in a flash.
Sunday, the Soldotna airport rented out a strip of runway to the Cook Inlet Lions Club for drag racing. The airport's greatest reservation about doing so was the noise. They ruled that a limit of 90 decibels must be maintained.
"I guarantee you those cars don't make as much noise as those airplanes," said Gerald Thompson, who worked in the pits Sunday.
Even with the volume restricted, 750 men, women and children visited the airport for the drag racing.
John Mellish of RPM Engine Rebuild, Inc., was not upset by the requirement of mufflers on all of the automobiles.
"The technology in mufflers is where they really don't rob any power," Mellish said. "They just take care of the noise."
Pat Kerrone, a 25-year area resident, brought his 1970 Dodge Challenger.
"Look at this turnout," Kerrone said. "There are spectators stretched out along the entire 1/8 mile. The Lions are our heroes."
Richard Dominick, president and charter member of the Cook Inlet Lions, said that heroics are important to the Lions.
Dominick said that at the request of Helen Keller, the Lions are knights for the blind.
"We are very big into sight," he said.
Sunday's drag races were a fund-raiser to combat vision impairment.
Dominick said his No. 1 concern at the event was safety, and not just that of the racers. Four thousand pound concrete barricades and mesh fencing were set up to prevent the spectators from wandering on to the drag strip.
Wade Beard, a member of Robert Thompson's pit crew, said the racers were relatively safe while driving.
"They're only going to shoot out if something breaks," he said.
Accidents do happen, but the drivers care for their cars so well that such occurrences are rare.
"I had a car just like this in high school," Thompson said of his '68 Plymouth GTX. "It's street legal. I drove it here today."
Thompson said that not all dragsters have the tires, mufflers, cooling capabilities or lights which would make them safe for highway travel.
Street legal or not, the car with the meanest bite was Dean Scroggens' 1970 Camaro. Scroggens won the Pro Stock competition. At the line, his car hopped and snorted like a pit bull on a short chain.
"I've had that yellow car for 12 years," he said.
Scroggens said he still gets a thrill driving it.
"When I get out of it I'm shaking from adrenaline."
Scroggens' racer has a 454 cubic engine and is equipped with nitrous boosters.
Michelle Ulen, of Soldotna, finished third in the Pro Stock with her 1936 Chevrolet pickup truck.
"Dean's noise got to me," she said.
Ulen was pleased with her performance and very focused on the day's event.
"We've put so much work and effort into this," Ulen said. "We've been meeting every week for the past two months."
Even at the race's conclusion, Ulen's work wasn't finished. All evidence of the race had to be removed, including the barricades.
"We're probably going to be here until 11:00 p.m." she said.
Cars and trucks were not the only racers out on Sunday. Bryan Alexander brought his snowmachine equipped with wheel skis and asphalt track. He built the machine from the ground up.
"You steer by body language," he said. "It's my winter sled."
Alexander reported his machine did the 1/8 mile strip of runway in 6.9 seconds.
"It could beat most of the cars out here," he said.
Nichele "Nikki" Baker, 11, said she was racing at Soldotna's airport because she enjoys the speed and the crowd.
Baker was driving her Dingo, a vehicle that resembles a dune buggy and keeps her close to the ground. She's been driving the Dingo for two years.
Dominick said he was proud of all 32 of the day's racers.
"We take care of our drivers," he said.
Dominick said that after the Lions subtracted fees to go toward eyesight surgery and research, the remaining purse would be paid out to the racers.
The city of Soldotna charges the Lions $500 to rent the airstrip. This fee is higher than user groups have had to pay in the past.
"It seemed stiff when all the money was going back into the humanitarian needs. The city should consider it," Dominick said.
Ray Nickelson worked under the Lions barbecue tent. He steadily cooked from 1:00 p.m. until the races finished. Nickelson said he served 220 hamburgers, four packages of hot links and eight packages of hot dogs.
"I just kept throwing them on here," Nickelson said while waving a spatula at the grill.
Wayne Tachick, of Soldotna, has lived off of Airport Heights for the last 20 years. Tachick was at his home on Sunday afternoon and he said he was not bothered by the drag racing.
"It is fine with me if they want to go out there and crash and burn," he said. "It's good to blow off some steam."
Further down Oehler street are the Kenai River Cabins. Owner Darwin Ansotegui agreed with his neighbor Tachick and said the drag racing was not a disturbance. Ansotegui said he was interested in seeing the races next time.
"The Harleys driving off made more noise," he said.
Dominick said that those who are affected by the noise should contact him and the Lions will try to work out whatever problems there may be.
"We can give them free passes," he said.
The Lions have scheduled the next drag race at the Soldotna airport for July 9 at noon.
The Lions Club invites interested drivers to enter their own cars, trucks or motorcycles. Meetings about safety requirements and registration are held at the Moose Lodge Family Center Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m.
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