Can't rain on this parade

Drag racers make most of wet conditions

Posted: Sunday, July 30, 2000

A steady drizzle may have forced the cancellation of actual drag racing at the Soldotna Municipal Airport Saturday, but it did not stop die-hard drivers and fans from showing up anyway.

A wet track is not conducive to dragsters trying to make it from point A to point B, so the elimination rounds were scrapped.

"(When it's wet) you get no traction and you'll just sit still," said race promoter Wendy Hudson of the Drag Racing Division of the Cook Inlet Lions Club. "The point of our racing is to get from one end of the track to the other."

But since so much work was put in setting up for a weekend of racing and so many drivers showed up, race organizers decided to allow practice runs on the 1/8 mile track situated at the end of the tarmac.

It takes about 6-7 hours to turn the corner of the airport ramp into a drag strip. A couple dozen heavy cement blocks, called Jersey barriers, are placed between the track and the spectators, the timing system and starting lights (the Christmas Tree) must be set up, not to mention portable toilets, bleachers and concession stand.

About 15 vehicles of all shapes and sizes took timed turns down the puddle-strewn asphalt, most of them head-to-head. And even though there were no prizes to win, elapsed times were being recorded, so drivers were going all out.

There were several full-size pickups, an old Camaro and an old Barracuda, a Vega wrapped around a V-8 engine, a van, a circle-track racer and a go-cart on the track at various times.

The circle-track racer belonged to Bill Baker, president of Twin City Raceway.

"It's a blast, and absolute blast," he said of his car's run down the strip. "When it came off the wet pavement, it just took off."

Baker had some shifter problems and couldn't get his car out of first gear, but still made some of the quickest runs of the day.

The go-cart, a six horsepower Manco Dingo, was piloted by Baker's 11-year-old daughter Nikki, who recorded a top speed of 32 mph on one run.

"She bought that go-cart with her dividend last year," Baker said. "Now she wants a junior dragster so she can triple that 32."

Nikki also served as the "time-tape girl," who gave racers a printout of their elapsed times and top speeds after they made their runs.

Nikki took a couple runs against a small Dodge Rampage pickup in her Dingo, and did well on one run, but red-lighted in another.

Vehicles of different horsepowers can go head-to-head under a format called "bracket racing." The theory behind bracket racing is to allow any two vehicles -- even a top fuel dragster against a moped -- to race competitively against each other. The way it works, is a driver establishes a bracket time for their vehicle, which they cannot exceed during a competitive run. The vehicle with a higher bracket time leaves earlier than one with a lower time. Theoretically, both vehicles should cross the finish line at about the same time.

If mayors Ken Lancaster of Soldotna and John Williams of Kenai get to race today as scheduled, officials said they will establish bracket times before racing a best two out of three series for charity and bragging rights.

The mayors are scheduled to run sometime after 2 p.m. today if the weather cooperates. Williams will race Don Petroze's Silver Hawk Studebaker while Lancaster will drive Bill Banta's Happy Bear pickup.

Happy Bear made a couple of runs down the strip after the rain let up a little, but with racing slicks on the rear wheels, couldn't get up to full speed. The Studebaker was there, but with wrinkle-wall slicks mounted, it stayed on the trailer.

The rain all but stopped by 4 p.m., but it was getting too late to get the track dry and hold eliminations.

"If we had gotten this window at 11 a.m. or 12, we would have raced today," said announcer Gene Chambers. "A lot of people don't know you can dry out a track."

Track steward Jim Graige was impressed with the turnout despite the rain.

"This is a sport whose time has come on the peninsula," he said. "There are a lot of people with cars in their garages that will be out here next year."

The gates open at the Soldotna airport raceway at 11 a.m. today for the Peninsula Shootout, with time trials beginning at noon, followed by eliminations at 2 p.m. If the weather does not cooperate, the mayors' challenge will be rescheduled for mid-August.

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