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MOTOR RACING SHAV GLICK

NHRA Keeps Tracks Open to the Public

July 05, 2002|SHAV GLICK

It has been more than 50 years since Wally Parks formed the National Hot Rod Assn., its main premise to get hot rodders off the streets and into a controlled environment where they could indulge their "me against you" racing urges without endangering others.

The Glendora-based NHRA has grown into the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with 80,000 members, 130 member tracks and a $50-million racing series, but it still holds true to its original plan of providing racing space for would-be street rodders.

Three NHRA sanctioned drag strips in Southern California--California Speedway in Fontana, Irwindale Speedway and Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale--have scheduled times for inexpensive street-legal "run what you brung" racing.

"We had heard repeatedly about the increase in drag racing on our city streets and the dangers posed by this," said Bill Miller, California Speedway president. "A number of recent traffic fatalities have been linked to illegal drag racing on city streets. We hope by giving people a designated time and place, we can get them off the streets."

The three tracks offer a variety of conditions.

California Speedway has a quarter-mile strip with a low limit of 10 seconds elapsed time, which equates to about 135 mph in the fastest cars.

Irwindale is an eighth-mile, also with speed limits. LACR is a quarter-mile facility where cars range from clunkers seen on the freeways to jet dragsters that can hit 314 mph.

The LACR has what it calls "grudge racing" Wednesday and Friday nights. Irwindale has "test and tune nights" on Thursdays. Racing at Fontana is on specified weekends, all in the daytime. The next one is July 13-14.

"It's surprising, and not something we planned, but American muscle cars seem to dominate on Saturdays, with mostly imports on Sunday," said Dennis Bickmeier of the California Speedway staff. "We've been getting 350-400 cars a day and about 1,000 spectators."

Street-legal racing, as prescribed by the NHRA, "features time trials and grudge racing only, which ensures each participant the opportunity for a maximum number of passes down the drag strip."

Some street-legal events require mufflers and tires approved by the Department of Transportation, whereas others permit open exhausts and/or drag slicks. All have strict safety rules. For instance, at Fontana and Palmdale, a helmet is mandatory if a vehicle is faster than 13.99 seconds for the quarter-mile, at Irwindale if under 8.6 seconds for the eighth-mile.

Costs are minimal, $20 to race and $10 to watch at Fontana and Irwindale, $15 to race and $5 to watch at Palmdale.

"We had a lot of skeptics when we announced our eighth-mile drag strip, people saying it would never work, but the response has been overwhelming," said Doug Stokes, Irwindale spokesman. "The other night, there were 85 cars in line, waiting for their chance to run the 660 feet as fast as their car would go, and there were another 120 cars in the pits.

"You never know where the racers come from. Last Thursday, a woman in her 40s showed up with a new Saturn--still had the sticker on--and she made two runs. She said when she was a girl, her brothers raced at the old Irwindale track but they wouldn't let her race so when she heard about our place, she came out, took two runs, and said she had satisfied her dream of drag racing."

Once a month, on a Sunday, Irwindale holds a competition that is part of the Summit Racing Series, in which drivers in several classes accumulate points toward the national finals, Oct. 10-13, at the Top Gun Raceway in Fallon, Nev. Team Irwindale will be represented by 48 vehicles, four alternates and eight high school students in the Fallon runoffs.

The next Summit series racing is scheduled July 21.

The LACR has weekend racing for clubs or professionals through December. Many NHRA Powerade series competitors test on the Palmdale strip.

The Irwindale and Palmdale tracks also have junior drag racing programs once a month for drivers from 8 to 17 in one-half scale dragsters.

Details: California Speedway, (909) 429-5200; Irwindale Speedway, (626) 358-1100; Los Angeles County Raceway, (661) 533-2224.

Back to Daytona

Last year at this time, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his first return to the Daytona track where his father had been killed five months earlier, won the Pepsi 400, one of the most dramatic races in NASCAR Winston Cup history.

"The team will never forget last year's win," Earnhardt said. "We had so much on our minds, and to go out and win like we did was a great help to the whole team, and the entire DEI organization too."

Michael Waltrip, his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate, finished second.

"We're having a poor season right now, but it's nothing like the nightmare we all went through last year," Earnhardt said. "To win again [Saturday night] would launch us into the second half of the season, just like last year's win did. And we'll have a baseball-theme paint job again."

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