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Ken
06-29-05, 01:56 PM
From Seacoastonline.com (http://www.seacoastonline.com/):

Tue. June 28, 2005

A day at the dragway

By Rachel Forrest
currents@seacoastonline.com (currents@seacoastonline.com)


http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/exeter/e6_28cur.jpg
Photo courtesy of New England Dragway

The rev of engines, the squeal of tires, the pungent aroma of exhaust and burning rubber comes just before the invigorating sound of speed as a í69 Camaro tears down a quarter-mile of flat, gleaming track - drag racing is one "hot" sport.

So whatís a day (or night) like at New England Dragway in Epping? It can be many things, but itís always exciting. There are big "Nights of Thrills," all-day extravaganzas with professional racers, hot rods and jet dragsters. Or try out a top bike session or in September, the International Hot Rod Associationís North American Nationals, not to be missed. But there are many days when the amateur racers come out to play. Street Night is the venue for just regular old guys and gals to bring in their cars and try them out on the professional track, if they meet the safety regulations, of course.

On a recent Wednesday evening, the sun came out after a heavy rain and warmed up the asphalt leading up to the gates at the Dragway. At 5 p.m. the gates open to let in lines of cars, motorcycles and trucks of all shapes and sizes. They pay a $17 fee (spectators pay $10, less for kids) and theyíre on their way to the check-in area where officials qualify them to race. One thing thatís great about an evening at Street Night is that you can go down and talk to the racers as they get qualified or wait to race, which would be fun for those kids big and little who love cars and bikes.

Frank "Bondo" Szarek brought his í86 Corvette, although his friend was racing it, describing themselves as " a couple of old-timers in our 60s reliving what we did in our youth."

He said that even the professionals on those nights allow spectators to go down and talk to them and it adds an element of fun and an alternative to watching the races. After the cars are checked in and given a number, they all line up to race in pairs. Grab a sausage sandwich and a soda and go sit in the bleachers. They also have pizza, burgers, wraps and ice cream. Itís best to sit up high to see it all. Some folks like to sit down at the finish, but most seem to drift toward the middle. Most of the Street Night evenings are sponsored by a rock station, this evening it was Rock 101 so Jethro Tull plays over the speakers lining the track. The evenings are also sponsored by a car dealer, this evening Bonneville and Son in Manchester, and periodic pitches for great cars and raffles come over the sound system.

There are all kinds of cars and the people who love them who engage in racing their own cars. Some of the cars are just their regular ride-even Audis and VWs, and some are all souped-up muscle cars like Firebirds and plenty of Mustangs.

The drivers are like those guys who want to drag race late at night on the street, but since theyíre responsible adults with families and jobs, they come to the Dragway to do it legally and safely instead in a regulated contained environment with emergency equipment on hand just in case.

Brent Abrams has been coming to the Dragway for three years. He has a gorgeous red 1997 Corvette with a super-charged engine.

"You canít keep me off the track Ėthe speed, the rush, the competition-itís all great."

John Wiseman of Portsmouth has been coming to the track for 18 years.

"My best time was 11.57 seconds," said the Mustang driver. "The faster the car goes the more safety features you have to have."

The races start at 6 p.m. and go until 10, and while cars still stream into the tech safety area, by 6 most of the cars and motorcycles are lined up and ready to rumble.

Two cars line up to race and get into position. They squeal their wheels, or "burnout" to get the tires warm for the track.

Up in the stands, Frank Szarek says that itís mostly just for show, but the effect is dramatic. Smoke rises from the back of the car, the tires skid, and after the cars get into position, the signal lights begin their sequence. There are a few amber lights first and then the green.

"If you see the green, youíre already late," Szarek says.

Some cars start off slowly and some just get to the punch right away. Itís clear that many of the Corvettes are going to beat their opponents, but itís mostly about beating your own time. It helps to have the competition.

Szarekís black ĎVette runs the track in 12.3 seconds. The lighted board at the finish displays initial reaction time and at the end the time it took to run the track and speed in miles per hour. Some of these cars are going well in excess of 100 mph, some less souped-up cars run at a decent 87 mph, but still, itís a chance to open up the engine.

As the cars tear off down the track, the startling sound of big backfires echoes across the Dragway grounds.

Periodically, the motorcycles gear up to race. They wait in a little holding area right near the starting line, guys all dressed in what must be very hot full leather suits. They get the signal to get ready and hustle to put on helmets and get the bikes ready. There are no Harleys here, just sleek made-for-ultra-speed bikes.

They line up in a pack and like the cars, go off in pairs. This is where it gets even more exciting. One racer pops a little "wheelie," one skids a bit, but itís just fascinating to see how fast these bikes go - 133 mph, even 140 is commonplace. They get that slip of paper at the end and go back to their waiting area to compare times and speeds, and talk about their bikes, what they might be buying next.

As the evening wears on, more cars come in. Most are here by 8 oíclock, and some have gone home because their engines have gotten too hot in the summer sun, especially with all of the racing theyíre doing. While they wait in the line to race, they open their hoods to cool things off a bit. Spectators can walk along the line of cars and talk to the drivers here as well.

Later in the evening the sun sets, but itís a bit cold and windy up in the stands. The lights go on along the track and thereís an eerie quality to the scene as the cars speed off to the finish. For the rest of the season, there will be plenty more nights like this as well as Super Chevy Shows and Street Fighter Motorcycle nights, but Street Night is the night to watch drivers live out their fantasies with grace and speed.

Find out more about schedules and entrance fees for Street Night and other great programs at www.newenglanddragway.com (http://www.newenglanddragway.com/). The author will not be racing her Pontiac Aztec or her í64 Corvette at Street Night anytime soon, but itís still fun to fantasize.