Archive for July, 2014

This past weekend, Ben and I were in Elliot Lake, a former uranium mining company town turned retirement community, a long six and a half hour drive north of Toronto.  The  trip was made bearable, even interesting,  by listening to an audio autobiography narrated by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson called “Yes Chef”.   But after four hours on the road,  we were pretty much done.  We even contemplated calling my long time friend Rita and pleading fatigue and a debilitating case of  “numb bum”.  But we grabbed the cooler from their spotless garage in Lively and pressed on to the airport at Elliot Lake because this was an event that we absolutely could not miss.

You see, my friends of more than 40 years, Rita and Peter, had purchased a Cobra kit car last year and she was going to drag race it this weekend.

According to Jack Nerad,  senior editor of Kelly’s Blue Book and the co-host of the  most-listened-to auto-related radio program in the country, “America on the Road,” the  legendary Cobra was “an inspired blend of minimalist British sports car technology and American muscle”. 

And it won a lot of races in the 60’s against European cars like Ferrari.  Their car has a 327 Corvette engine, bored out to a more powerful 355:  although it has a kit car body, it has a Cobra chassis, and it is spec’d as close to the original Cobra as a kit can get.

In other words, the car is fast.  Damm fast.

Drag racing is to Formula One what beer is to Champagne:   both are forms of effervescent alcohol and both in sufficient quantity, produce the same result.  But unlike the glamorous and international Formula One racing, which pits multi-million dollar teams against each other, drag racing is blue collar egalitarian:  for $100 an entry, even a guy driving his Dodge Ram truck or  as unlikely a race car as a KIA sedan can enter.   Although you come up to the line in twos, you are basically racing against yourself. Your best time, against your own best time, until you are no longer improving.

We arrived at the decommissioned airport to a cacophony of engines roaring and smoke billowing.  Peter, a mining executive, thoughtfully provided a jumbo jar of industrial strength ear plugs.   Black exhaust filled the air around the starting line.  No “greenies” here.  The scrawny starter, who bore a strong resemblance to a methadone addict,  encouraged them to “light ’em up”, waving his arms ever higher:  each driver is allowed to perform a burnout, which heats the driving tires and lays rubber down at the beginning of the track, improving traction.  At least, that’s the official rationale:  Rita and I agreed that it was a characteristically male display of testosterone and of course, an attempt to intimidate the other driver.   You are ultimately racing against yourself, but hey, in that moment, you really want to beat the other car off the line. That puts the “race” in drag racing.

As we strolled down the staging area, we saw tricked out cars with names designed to provoke a yuk-yuk as you walked by, like “Frankenstang” and “Premature Acceleration”.  Aggressive red and yellow flames were the cliche colour schemes of choice.  There were ski doos with tires, driven by  heavily tattooed young men, swaggering around the runway with no shirts and their jeans dangerously low on their hips, displaying both their Calvins and their butt dimples.  Never mind, I judged  from the pile of empties behind the trailers:   all of that shoulder muscle would be dropping and making the shift to their fronts and middles by the time they reached mid forties.  Maybe sooner.  And if you did not like Southern fried rock & roll or bluegrass (which I do), well you were in the wrong place  for at least 2 days.

Despite the playboy silhouettes on the hoods and the sophomoric names, it was a surprisingly family oriented event.  There were even junior racers, 8 to 18 years old, with their own custom but half size version of the sport’s fastest cars.

There was a refreshing  lack of rules and regulations:  as we wandered down the track where the cars were lining up to go, there was no officious person herding us out of the way. Ladies road up to the start line with their men, blew a kiss for luck and jumped out at the last minute.  No big warning signs, nobody yelling, no representatives of a nanny state assuming we were not smart enough to get out of the way when a car is barreling down at you.  As you might imagine, I liked the “laisse faire” approach.

Why did Rita do it?  She was only 1 of 2 female racers.  A self processed “speed demon”,  she went 0 to 78.9 miles per hour in under 10 secs.  9.77 to be precise (as she reminded me, the .77 is important)  No fear of a ticket or losing her license.  It was on her bucket list and at 50- something years of age, she triumphantly crossed it off and did it in style.  I liked that too.

In the words of the Boss, that blue collar troubadour from the New Jersey shore:

Tonight, tonight the strip’s just right

I wanna blow ’em off in my first heat

Summer’s here and the time is right

For goin’ racin’ in the street




Read Full Post »