Steve Cook works on his 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner PRO MOD dragster in the driveway of his Soldotna home.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
One call to Steve Cook's cell phone says it all.
"You have reached the cell phone of Steve Cook," his message says. "I am either racing down the track at 220 miles an hour or I'm on the phone with somebody else. Leave a message. I'll get back with you. Thanks."
It's not too difficult to decipher what he's passionate about.
"And if I'm not there," he said during a break from his 50th birthday surprise party, "I'm probably at the track racing or at work."
If Cook doesn't answer this week, you can probably guess where he is.
He and other members and friends of his drag racing team, Cook's Racing, are traveling to Fort St. John, British Colombia, Canada, for a match racing competition beginning Friday with a car show and continuing on Saturday and Sunday with the actual races.
Steve Cook works on his 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner PRO MOD dragster in the driveway of his Soldotna home. The car is shown at top.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"It will be a lot of fun," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Three cars from Alaska will be pitted against three cars from Canada for a $10,000 cash prize, which will be divided into different payouts. Each team also is reimbursed $1,000 for travel expenses.
"I think we'll do good. That's what I hear," he said.
Always possessing an interest in fine vehicles, Cook has been racing cars, bikes and snowmachines "on and off" for the past 15 years while working feverishly on his 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner, a car he had always craved until finding one roughly six years ago.
"I got a good deal on it and I've been working on it ever since," he said.
Usually racing for fun, he now says he wants to make some money.
"Now I built this to win a little bit of money. It's time to get serious now," he said while pointing at the Roadrunner, which has about $175,000 worth of parts, work and sweat poured into it. "In Alaska, we can win, if we won everything on the weekend, we could go home with $1,000 to $1,200 a day."
Occasionally entering car shows, Cook said there's nowhere to race on the Kenai Peninsula since local airports shut down for racing after Sept. 11, 2001.
"Soldotna Airport closed for racing and an airport in Fairbanks closed," he said. "So, now it's just down to one track in Palmer, Alaska."
Every other weekend, he estimated, he and his team travel to a drag strip in Butte, about seven miles out of Palmer, and compete in around six races within his class, the Top Eliminators.
"It's the higher end group where the more high performance cars are in that group," he explained. "You've got to run seven seconds or faster in the quarter mile."
A spill chief at Red Dog Mines, about 90 miles north of Kotzebue, Cook works three weeks on and then has two weeks off.
Working on his car occupies a handful of his time.
"(Two weeks ago) we worked till 4:30 a.m. and got in the truck and headed for Anchorage," he said. "I got in that night, Saturday, and we worked all night till 4:30 and jumped in the car."
But more than just work goes into a race.
Cook used the Roadrunner last fall to qualify for his Top Sportsman license, a requirement to drag race.
"You have to go through a burn out, a 60-foot, you've got to go 120 feet ... just to get your license," he explained. "They want to make sure you don't get out there and kill somebody. So, you take short steps to get your license."
Having acquired it this spring with his top speed of 204.49 miles per hour in seven seconds, Cook is excited to finally race his 3,000-horsepower dream car for the first time in actual competition in Canada.
If it goes well, he said they may travel to the Lower 48 in October or November.
"It will be fun," Cook said. "If it works out, we'll do it again next year."
After being pulled away from working on his car when his friends and family surprised him with a birthday celebration, Cook said they'd be working through the night to make up for lost time.
To him, though, every second is worth it.
"I enjoy it. It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's nice to have a nice ride, painted up nice and get compliments on it."
He's hoping to receive more than just friendly comments this coming weekend.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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