1. Being a professional drag racer, people have asked me countless times, “How does it FEEL to drive a powerful drag race car?” Not an easy question to answer. It would be like explaining the feel of sky diving to someone like myself that never did it. There is not much to compare either of those things as an example. But I will do my best in this writing to describe what my driving experience is like. I warn—- This will be a long one.
There is a whole lot of touch and feel going on during my driving. In fact all my 5 senses are acute, and sometimes I suspect a 6th. sense creeps in. In one run down the quarter mile I experience them all. The touch, smell, sounds, sights, taste and that mysterious unexplainable 6th sense.
That 6th sense evolves possibly because of the extreme emotions taking place. Anxiety, expectation, apprehension, fear, giddiness, euphoria, rapture, agony, etc.
To quote ABC Sports, I have many times experienced “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
To describe the feeling of driving a drag car I will use for an example, the quickest and fastest drag race car I ever had or drove. It was during the 1992 to 1996 seasons. I was in my 50s but still in my prime. 99% of my 44 year career I’ve been owner, builder, mechanic and driver of my own racing team, Animal Jim Racing. That is unusual for a professional race driver these days. I was then and still am an “Old School” drag racer.
Preparation is utmost important. At times, I would thrash (intense service, repair-prepare) that car and my equipment after a major race for 60 to 70 hours. For 3 to 4 days. Then we would go again. Perhaps only a hundred or perhaps thousands of miles to the next date.
My ride then was a Pro Modified 92 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe. The chassis was built by the best. Jerry Haas. The 700” Ford Hemi Engines were by another best, John Kaase. The car was named and promoted worldwide as “The WunderBird” .Value at that time. Approximately $150,000
I am credited as one of a handful of racers that created the wild Pro Modified class in 1990. Over 20 years ago. Pro Modified started as Outlaw Pro Stock in 87 and evolved into Pro Modified which a spin off from Pro Stock. Neither of those cars, Pro Stocks or Pro Modifieds are stock at all. They just look it somewhat. The structure is custom made of chrome molly tubing incorporating a protective roll cage system, with exotic suspension and steering, Rules mandate a stock automotive wheel base. Stock looking replica carbon fiber body parts including functional doors are attached to make it resemble a factory car .Power comes from a special huge V8 engine. Special multi-disc clutch, special transmission, and rear end constitute the drive train. Special wheel bead lock rims and tires are used. The huge rear thin wall drag racing slicks are 17 inches wide by 36 inches tall.
Pro Modified actually means – Modified Pro Stock and is much quicker and faster than a legal Pro Stock car. This is due to more open and less restrictive rules. A Pro Mod can use any year or type of replica body, whereas Pro Stock is limited to a current 5 year rule.
2. Pro Mods also have much bigger rear spoilers, ground effects, bodies altered, and some even have rear wings like a Top Fuel dragster instead of spoilers
A Pro Mod is allowed to use power adders such as nitrous oxide, a supercharger or turbochargers. A Pro modified engine is now over 800 cubic inch and with a power adder makes up to 3,000 HP.
Lot of safety equipment is involved. Besides a protective roll cage, the driver wears very expensive special fire proof clothes, including, jacket, pants, gloves and shoes. All this is topped with a very expensive full face helmet. The car is equipped with a special 3 inch five point seat belt harness and a special neck brace. A special very expensive blow proof titanium bell housing protects from clutch explosions. There is a special fire extinguisher system plummed through out the car. For stopping, there are special carbon fiber disc brakes and two parachutes are attached to the rear of the car. All the safety equipment is mandatory and certified to a code mandated by the racing sanctions and industry. All these safety requirements are checked before the race by tech officials at the events.
Pro Modified drag race cars are the quickest and fasted door class cars in drag racing. Next step would be a “Funny Car” with the flip top body.
Today’s Pro Modifieds run the quarter mile in the mid 5 second range at 260 plus MPH. Try to imagine what that must feel like. That quick and fast from a dead stop. In two and a half blocks. —Only1320 feet. With a stock wheelbase car with functional doors. In 2013, the value of a fresh international competitive Pro Modified drag car currently is near $400,000. It takes about 2 million dollars to run a full national sanctioned season. These cars are raced all over the world.
To describe a driving experience, I chose to tell about a huge final while on our Silver Anniversary Tour in 1994. Our tour had taken us thus far to Epping NH. I was racing in the national USSC (United States Super Circuit). This was the same weekend to the day that marked my 25 years in organized drag racing. July 20th. 1969. [The day that Armstrong stepped on the moon, was also a huge step for me,] Jim Feurer, who in a few years from that date would become worldly known as “Animal Jim”.
The Animal name originated from my first sanctioned drag racing effort. I had modified a big 57 Mercury and painted it orange. The name “The Big Animal” was emblazoned in huge white with blue drop shading cartoon style letters painted on the doors. The Big Animal name was coined by my friend Dave back in 63 when I was still a street and county road illegal drag racer. I had a brand new special order, big black 1963, 427 powered R code Mercury Monterey two door sedan. A real sleeper. I whipped all comers on the streets and back roads, from Chicago to the Quad cities. When present for these races, Dave would expound, ‘That big black Merc leaves the line like a BIG (bleeping) Animal. In 1969, when I decided what to name my first sanctioned race car, I recalled Dave’s Big (bleeping) Animal comments. Leaving out the adjective, is the name I gave my orange 57 wheel standing Mercury drag car. “The Big Animal” Everyone soon started calling me, Animal Jim. My 6 foot 200 lb., long hair appearance. And perhaps my aggressive animated driving style may have added to my nick name.
On this July 20th, 1994 at Epping, NH, we had earned our way to the Pro Modified finals. I would be up against Mike Faucher from Worchester, Ma, driving his 2500 HP supercharged Nasty Nova.
3. This Faucher youngster, half my age, also owns the Quest Racing Speed Shop in Worchester. He was plenty tough. I had my work cut out. We qualified one and two. I was number one by only a thousandth of a second.
I had won this event in 1991 driving my Rick Jones sponsored 1990 Pro Modified Ford Probe against Manny Dejesus in his Witch Doctor Nova. It would be awesome to win here again and on my very day celebrating our 25 years of sanctioned drag racing.
The day before, when we arrived, it was early before any qualifying runs. While my crew unloaded and set up I get my trusty vintage Hiawatha bicycle out and went to check the starting line and ride up and down the track to check how it was prepped and for any imperfections or debris. Then rap with the staff and some local racers about the track’s current conditions and if one lane was better than the other. This is very important. Especially if later choosing lane choice. Many tracks I know well .But it had been 3 years since I ran here.
Track prep includes scraping old rubber in the starting area, dragging the complete surface with a tractor affair with a huge Goodyear rubber device and spraying the entire quarter mile surface with VHT. VHT is liquid traction glue that sticks like fly paper. At the starting line powdered rosin is also used.
My driving job starts at my trailer pit area; The WundrBird is again prepped and ready for the showdown. It is time for me to graciously back off the interaction with fans and media. The hand shaking, signing autographs and reminiscing with them about the days of yore have to subside now. It is time to concentrate on the present and this upcoming important run.
Points, lot of money, publicity and— the satisfaction of winning are the prizes.
It is time for me to start suiting up.
The stiff feel of my Pyrotect triple layered, brightly multicolored Nomex fire suit, my pinstriped and flamed full face Pyrotect helmet, shoes, gloves and rest of the gear are very familiar to me. Like old friends, that may save my life. I recognize my fire suit’s slight gamey smell of a couple seasons of use. (Washing a fire suit is not recommended. It can dilute the fire retardant substance of the material).
My crew hooks up the tow strap and tows me to the staging lanes using a sponsor’s Ford Ranger pickup. While being towed, I check the $500 quick release carbon fiber MoMo steering wheel to make sure it has been reinstalled centered on the proper splines with the red band of tape at 12 o’clock. We pull into the staging lanes. It is time to finalize my preparation.
When getting ready, it is like a warrior knight going to joust. I secure myself in the car with my seat belts. With my fire proof suit and shoes, already on, I finish securing my helmet and fireproof padded neck collar. I put on my bright orange Pyrotect fire proof gloves. Ed, my crewman helps to tighten my left, hard for me to reach, out board belt. The seat belt harness needs to be as tight as possible. Ed pulls the safety pin off the fire bottles and the parachutes. Al my crew chief turns on the kill switch in the rear. I push the line lock button to monitor the indicator light to make sure I have power. Pumping the brake pedal hard I feel for it to pump up and lock and I check the brake pressure gauge, then release the button and feel the brake pedal slightly release, assuring me the line lock device functions properly.
4. After checking the rear tire pressure again, Al comes to the right door, reaches in and turns the valve open on the nitrous bottle. I tap the purge button and a frisky white froth shoots out of the nitrous oxide purge exhaust port from under the rear of my hood scoop.
I look at the nitrous gauge to check the pressure. Ideal is 950 lbs. Before shutting the door, Al, who has been my crew chief since 1985, smiles, winks at me and gives me thumbs up.
Ed takes the cover off .the huge hood scoop that houses the two massive Holley Dominator carburetors and the NOS two stage nitrous fogger system. The Ranger is unhooked from the WunderBird and moved over to the return road.
It is almost time.
The feel of the tightened five point Pyrotect seat belt harness is very familiar. As is the special custom aluminum seat, custom fitted to my torso. That seat houses me like a loving thing. Sitting in a race car all buckled in, with a door safety net and protective chrome molly roll bars all around me, gives a womb like secure feeling.
Driving a race car like this is nothing like any passenger car, muscle car or hot rod. Not even the most expensive, fastest and fanciest ones. The WunderBird Pro Mod is a missile, whose only purpose is to blast down the quarter mile as quick and fast as can be mustered within the rules mandated.
Next the special door window safety net and latches are secured. I shut the escape hatch and we are ready to go.
When strapped in, my movement is very limited. Only enough to reach my essential eleven buttons and switches, parachute release, escape hatch and fire bottle handle if needed. (Hopefully not-but has been needed a couple times) The four Hurst shifter handles on the Lenco Transmission are conveniently slightly forward to my right side. Even through my Pyrotect fireproof gloves I can feel the knobs on the four Hurst transmission levers are worn smooth from years of use.
I pull the Lenco transmission’s three forward levers locking them back one at a time in a sequenced rhythm to mock shifting during a run. The 4th.shift lever is for the reverser.
As I pull the 3 forward levers back, I feel the pressure exerted and the metallic thud telling me the locking engagements are firmly correct as they should be. With the heel of my hand, I knock the Lenco shift levers forward to their original positions. I feel the clutch pedal with my left foot and check the freeplay, take it up and feel the pressure the pedal exerts when fully depressed. I locate all my eleven switches and buttons. I feel the parachute lever, fire bottle handle and kill switch again. It is a nessessary responsibility of the driver to constantly rehearse all functions, so everything becomes a split second reflex when actually making the run.
I grasp the steering wheel and turn it back and forth and pull back hard to verify once more its security quick pin is fully engaged.
It is now or never. The staging official signals it is time to start the car and pull to the pre run area. I take a deep breath and let it out. I turn on my necessary switches I recently rehearsed on the instrument panel over head. I feel each switch as I engage them. There is a healthy click as the bright red indicator lights flash on for each switch. I feel the click when activated. First the fuel pumps. CLICK! — Then the ignition. CLICK! — Then the water pump. CLICK! — Then the nitrous oxide system. CLICK! I feel the vibration from the two huge Magna Flow fuel pumps.
5. Those fuel pumps can deliver one gallon of fuel after the regulators in three seconds. I observe the Autometer fuel pressure gauge. Seven and one half pounds. Just right. With my right foot I pump the throttle pedal slightly. With my left hand I toggle the momentary 15 degree retard switch. With my right hand I push the starter button. I feel the starter crank and in less than a second the huge 700 inch 1500 HP engine explodes to life.
At this point any butterflies, fears, concerns or distractions are totally erased. It is now total concentration, mesmerized by adrenaline fueled by the feel of that powerful engine.
I rev the engine to clean it out. I check my gauge readings, especially oil pressure and water temperature again.
It is impossible to describe in words what it feels like when revving that kind of power. The sound and resonating of it goes right through every molecule of my body and organs. It is a supernatural feeling as I actually become part of the race car. I feel my 6th. Sense kicking in.
I let the clutch out and pull out of staging with my left hand on the wheel and my right hand on the transmission’s first shift lever. It takes very little throttle to move the car. I position myself and Al guides me into to the water box behind the right lane.
(The “water box” is a watered down area, before staging to spin the rear tires in until they get hot. That function is called a burnout. Purpose is to heat the huge rear tires for traction and burn a molten path of rubber across the starting line.)
We had lane choice because I ran .001 quicker in the semis than Mike Faucher. In qualifying we had been #1 qualifier to Faucher’s #2 by the same margin. I chose the right lane.
Al knows just where to put me. The huge rear slicks at the far edge of the water and the small front wheels locked in the dry area in front. As I push the line lock button to lock the front brakes and pump the brake feeling my brake pedal build up hard, I see the brake pressure gauge reads 600 pounds.
(A brake line lock is an electric/hydraulic devise to lock front brakes to keep the car stationary while burning rear tires in burn out box. It is also used when staging. )
The line lock is operated with a button on the steering wheel.
With two Lenco levers locked back, I have the transmission in third gear now. When given the signal from the burn box official, I rev the engine to 7500 RPM and let the clutch out. The rear tires instantly churn in a blur of black rubber and billows of white smoke. I feel for the tires to start growing and the rear of the car to lift. When I feel it is right, I pull the last lever, fourth gear. In a second or two I feel the tires go to full growth and I let go of the line lock button keeping the engine at 7500 to 8000 RPM and I let er’ eat. The car bursts forward tires still churning molten rubber creating a giant boiling cumulus of blue tinted white clouds of smoke all around the car, spilling over the spoiler and back half of the car. With the rear wheels still spinning free, I am moving forward and will reach over100 miles an hour. Only the front half of the WunderBird can be seen. The rest the Bird is engulfed in the heavy smoke. By 300 feet past the starting line, the interior of my car fills with smoke.
6. Time to hold my breath., while on my way traveling blind from the smoke, tasting hot rubber and exhaust in the fabulous WunderBird. The engine’s heavy but shrill screaming sound while doing a burnout is like no other.
It is at peak rpm all that time. At 600 ft., tires still spinning, at over 100 miles per hour the car is now yawing back and forth almost totally sideways at times giving an appearance it is out of control while leaving a huge cloudy smoky trail like a crop duster. I control my burn out with the throttle and steering wheel correction and finally lift off the throttle at about 800 feet down track. This is what the crowd loves. I have been known to do full quarter mile burnouts. But 800 feet will do for a trademark Animal Jim “Ballistic” burnout and to win the USSC burnout contest.
This is part of the pageantry of drag racing. The part I love. While adjusting my foot throttle to control the burnout to as far as I want to go, I play the power band of that huge screaming engine with my throttle. It sounds like a huge loud roaring alien musical instrument.
I judge the length of the burnouts and go as far as I can feel safe. (It is easy to crash doing big burnouts like this)
After I lift off the gas, I put in the clutch and keep the eng revved a bit to make sure the engine does not die from surging fuel flooding the engine due to the sudden stopping. I let the car roll on a bit and bring it to a gentle halt. I open the roof hatch to release some smoke and try to grasp some fresh air like a drowning man. Putting the transmission in reverse I slowly back up into my thick white and blue smoky trail. The rear movement instantly forces the smoke to pour out of the hatch profusely. The fans love when I open the hatch and let the smoke billow out.
How can I relate what a 100 mph. burnout like that feels like? It is exhilarating to say the least. Like wild abandon freedom, but still kind of under control. A floating animated sensation. Perhaps like a super powerful speed boat. As I mentioned before, a good burnout is my favorite part of making a run.
Having control over that much power on the edge of possible devastation makes a person almost feel immortal. There is that 6th sense again.
Knowing I put the fans on their feet screaming in rhythm Ani–Mal, Ani—Mal! Is the frosting. Of course I cannot hear them from the loud WunderBird but I have seen videos and heard them when being towed back on the return road after a run.
I have become famous for my “Ballistic” long burnouts. Over the years, I have won more than my share of burnout distance contests when included at certain venues, like the USSC and various other special events and match races. I have been called “The Burnout King” and also even called “The Heavy Metal God of Drag Racing”
(When burnout contests were held at an event, they were judged for distance by a chosen notable and he or she would put a large traffic cone, not where the contestants stopped, but when it was perceived the driver clutched and lifted off the throttle. There was a hefty cash prize, and sometimes included a trophy for the winner.)
As a driver, a good burnout pumps my adrenaline and confidence to a spiritual high I have not the words to describe.
7. As I back up slowly, I check my gauges again. Watching the nitrous pressure gauge I purge the nitrous once more.
(Nitrous is purged to make sure it is pure liquid at the dispensing solenoid. It can turn to gas sitting in the lines. If nitrous is in a gas state instead of the pure129 degree below zero liquid nitrous, and is injected, when deployed, a bog and even an explosion can occur—The critical nitrous pressure, which is controlled by temperature can also be controlled from going too high by the aerosol cooling of purging.)
With about 150 feet left to back up, Al who had routinely positioned himself along the wall jumps running in front of me. Al guides me from the front with his hands by getting arm and hand direction from Ed back behind me at the starting line. (Most teams today use radios). The objective is to keep me in the sweet part of the groove where the best traction can be had.
I am backed up about a car and half behind the starting beams. Al stands at the starting line on the driver’s side and motions me forward. I shift the transmission into first gear and shut my escape hatch and check my gauge readings once again. As I approach Al sticks his foot before the pre stage beam where he wants me to stop. From that point I am on my own and will do my staging routine.
(The starting line device in drag racing is called a “Christmas Tree” 40 years ago flags where used. The Christmas Tree has two small vertical yellow bulbs on top. The top bulb is a prestage bulb, the second bulb indicates fully staged. Below the staging bulbs are three vertical larger yellow bulbs. “For a Pro Start”, when both competitors are fully staged, the starter will push his hand held button, activating a devise called “Auto Start” that in .8 to 1.2 seconds will activate those 3 yellow bulbs simultaneously. In .4 of a second the green bulb below will come on. If you break the beam too soon a red bulb will light below the green and the driver is disqualified.)
Staging a drag car is not as simple as it seems. Races are won and lost here.
Just before starting my staging, I purge the nitrous a last time and arm the necessary systems. I slowly roll towards the first beam and carefully light the top bulb. That is when I turn on my computer. Mike Faucher in the left lane does the same.
As a standard of sportsmanship, the first to light the top bulb waits till his competition lights their top bulb before lighting the second bulb. When each driver has their top bulb lit it is then up to each driver whenever they want to light the second bulb. Most drivers like to stage last.
Sometimes a staging battle of waiting goes on. I do not play that game. Once one driver has the top bulb lit and the other has his top and second bulb lit-there is only 7 seconds for the other driver to light their second bulb. If time runs out before the second driver lights his second stage bulb, “Auto Start” automatically puts on the red light and that driver is disqualified.”
For me, I can stage first or last well. I have disciplined my self over the years to being apt at offensive and defensive staging.
With my top bulb lit I set my line lock to 600 pounds to hold me into the staging beams. Faucher lights his second bulb. I got 7 seconds to stage.
8. My routine going in last to fully stage is: I put my throttle on the floor, A MSD Soft Touch rev control operated by a special roller switch on the clutch pedal shaft keeps the launching at my selected 6,000 rpm. by intermittingly misfiring select cylinders. Another roller switch next to the rev control, by passes the nitrous button and retard device under the throttle pedal.
I bump the clutch out carefully to skid the small locked up front wheels the 7 inches into the second beam. Now all 4 sets of staging bulbs are lit. The engines are barking an unnerving rev limited staccato rapid fire sound, the nitrous is engaged, and the throttle pedal is wide open. My unwavering eyes are on the Tree! 200% concentration. When I perceive the yellows to flash is when I instantly pop the clutch and simultaneously, released the line lock button on the steering wheel.
All hell brakes loose. The clutch instantly releases the rev control with one roller switch and the other switch releases letting the 500 HP assist nitrous fogger system engage immediately raising the gross horsepower to 2100.
The WunderBird with front wheels up a foot launches like it is being shot out of cannon from hell, pushing my distorting body to almost 7 G-force. With my eyeballs trying to enter my brain, I am accelerating like a jet fighter launched off an aircraft carrier. A feeling of euphoria flashes like a fleeting dizzy spell high of too much booze. The rearward force against me is so powerful, I have to discipline myself at great effort to keep my leg jammed down and foot down on the throttle. At .4 seconds a timer activates the second nitrous fogger system enhancing the launch by adding 300 more horse power.
Still launching in first gear I have covered the first 60 ft. in less than a second. The engine is now making 2400 horsepower. As I scream down the track I shift three times. The gear changes thrust the WunderBird onward like 3 individual launch type lunges keeping the acceleration at the max. Each shift point is critical. I shift at 7300 RPM. A run in Pro Mod is so attention consuming; it is not possible to read a tachometer or any other gauges. Most drivers use a shift light indicator to tell when to shift. Not me. I can feel by the sound of the engine, and gearing resonation going through my senses, even my 6th– when to shift.
By third gear I have covered 330 feet in 2 seconds. I shift to third. That shift is critical where split second decisions may be needed, and the first one needs to be right. At this point in the run, the power peak, clutch and traction come to a pinnacle. If all is not perfect, the car may violently shake the rear tires, sometimes lifting the car off the track surface causing the car to abruptly fishtail or veer causing a crash. Knowing what to decide and handle those situations is paramount. Especially if you need to lift off the gas and try to recover. (Known as a pedal fest) All these things can happen anytime in the run, but the third gear shift is the benchmark.
(Rear tire shake is when the wheel speed of the turning tire does not match the traction. The flimsy wrinkle wall huge tires fold up rapidly and shake so violent, it can shake the car to pieces, bloody your nose, break your teeth and knock the driver unconscious. I have been a victim of severe tire shake many times. When rookie drivers ask me, “If I have tire shake, when will I know to lift?” I answer, “You’ll know!” Sometimes tire shake if not too severe and can be controlled by shifting the next gear prematurely.
I get through third ok. There was some rear tire tremor on the gear change but I stayed with the run. Faucher is right along side me. I feel the resonate buzz going through me climax again. It is time for the final shift. Fourth gear is a little icy. Like hitting patchy frost on a bridge, the rpms momentarily flashed. Luckily, WunderBird recovered to full traction quickly.
9. I am now at the 1/8 mile. Halfway. My ET should be 4 seconds at about 190 MPH. at this point. WunderBird is now up on the tires at full growth and still accelerating strong.
I am approaching the top end, well over 200 MPH. Euphoria and that intoxicated tipsy feeling is strong again. Even with a big spoiler, and ground effects the car at this speed and acceleration, thinks it only weighs 50 pounds instead of 2400. What a way to lose weight.
More fun than TV’s “ Biggest Loser” The Bird starts to feel a little queasy. The air temperature has cooled, and the track is going away. WunderBird is romancing out of the groove a bit.
Instinctively – that the marginal uneasy loose feeling puts me on the brink of triggering my built in “fear factor/ common sense fuse”.
I tell rookies that have a scary run and indicate they were scared “bleepless”, that the feeling they are experiencing is their inner fuse that dictates safety and common sense. But I warn. As you get away with taking more and more chances, the amp limitations go up on that fuse and it take a more severe incident to blow it. And there are times, with even veterans like myself that have an extraordinary zeal to win, the fuse amps go way up and common sense and fear are completely bypassed.
Out of my left side peripheral vision I know Faucher is still right along side me with no way of telling who is ahead. WunderBird is feeling more unstable. A floating feeling, almost like a small plane landing in a buffeting cross wind. I should lift, but Faucher is still with me. Door to door. I choose not to pedal the gas. Trying to capture the win, I will stay with it as long as possible. Perhaps my fuse has amped and my zeal has overridden any fear or common sense. Times like this, which is often in a Pro Modified car, the finish line can not come soon enough.
As I approach the finish at a blinding speed, well over 200 mph. my euphoria still builds almost to erotica. I now have to concentrate 200% to fend off “Big End Rapture” and make the correct sequence of my finish line and shutdown routine steps.
Over 50% of drag race crashes happen at the big end after crossing the finish line.
My right hand is already on the parachute release lever.
Just before I cross the finish I pull the chute lever, let off the throttle and push in the clutch, shut of all my switches and brace myself. Thankfully the parachutes hit, pitching my body with a sudden opposite G-Force and for a second or two, my arms are locked holding against the steering wheel with the seat belts trying to cut through my fire suit and my eyeballs wanting to leave their sockets.
I always leave the transmission in 4th gear in case of chute failure so can I ease the clutch out and let the shutoff engine rotating against the transmission and rear end gearing to help back the car down. It is dangerous to hit those carbon fiber brakes too abruptly. The car is still twitchy. Over doing it on the brakes can cause the car to crash.
Lightly pumping my brakes. I am slowing to about 100 mph. To my relief and I am sure to everyone who cares, the WunderBird now feels stable.
Slowing safely now. I pass the first turn off. At the speed I was going I will go to the last one to turn off at a safe speed.
10. I turn off, coast on the return road 100 feet or so and come to a stop. The finish was so close and with my hands full of an unstable car I had no idea who won.
As I open my escape hatch to deep breathe again and before I can undo my helmet straps, the big end safety staff are rolling up my chutes. With my helmet off and seat belt harness undone, I unlatch the safety net and latches on the door open it, twist my body through the roll cage and get out of WunderBird. Mike Faucher is on the other side of me now and out of his car. We look at each other and shrug.
Neither of us knows who won yet. Another top end safety worker arrives to check us out, while the other two finish rolling up our chutes.
He congratulates me on a winning gutsy run and tells me I ran a 6 sec. run at way over 200 MPH. The winning factor was only 1 thousands of a second. When we tow the car back I will get a time ticket from the timing booth on the return road. Later I will download the computer read out.
I see my crew and some friends all yelling to me from the sponsor’s pickup truck coming to retrieve me. Al already has the time ticket and is waving it at me. When they get there they all jump around like I made the winning Super Bowl touchdown.
The time ticket shows both Faucher’s and my information. We had both run almost identical times and had great reaction times at the start. That is where I won. My reaction time was only .001 quicker than Faucher’s.
Mike’s crew arrives to tow him back. I go over to Mike Faucher, shake his hand and congratulate him on a great effort. I tell him it took all WunderBird and I could muster to beat him—It was a hell of a race winning by only by 1 inch!
I had won the event and the burnout contest to boot. On the very date representing my Silver. Anniversary of Drag Racing Tour.
As we tow back, I sit up on the roof of Wunderbird waving at the fans who are on their feet clapping and chanting Ani—Mal! —- Ani—Mal! Ed sits in my driver seat and steers.
We go to the winner’s circle for the trophy presentation, pictures and interviews. I am presented the trophy and several thousand dollars in cash.
One of the pictures taken that day has me, my wife Linda, Al, and our USSC circuit director Bret Kepner fanning out the cash like a deck of cards as I hug Linda and hold the trophy high.
Then it’s back to my trailer to interact and party with my family, fans, media and friends. Which sometimes, at night races, last till near dawn? My wife Linda says I am always the last racer to leave the race track.
Drag racing-or any positive sport experience does not feel any better than this. It is a high I wish I could share with every one. I have been very lucky to be able to experience that wonderful feeling many times. Lot of folks never have or will.
After the festivities we load up as the last of the fans and friends disperse. My friend, Bret Kepner, who is the USSC director and announcer, takes us all, my wife Linda, my crew and me out to eat East Coast fresh lobster at his favorite place in Epping to celebrate.
11. By the time we are done with that wonderful supper we say our thanks and goodbyes to Bret. He will be off to the airport to turn in his rental car and hop on a plane to do an ESPN announcing gig In Atlanta the next day, which is Sunday. Then he will fly to Atco, NJ for our USSC race on this coming Wednesday night.
My team and I are all in the hauler and on our way to English Town N.J., for a match race booking the next day. And then on to Atco to join Bret and the rest of our USSC circuit for the coming Wednesday night.
We are hardly out of Epping and I am already critiquing our winning performance and discussing strategy and preparation with Al for our next events.
During racing season, there is not much time to bask in glory. But later while rolling along the NJ Turnpike, I stole some moments to think about winning that significant race on the weekend of our 25 year drag racing anniversary. And with no apparent damage. It makes me feel almost giddy.
Then in the back of my mind a foreboding seeps in. I ponder things are going so well this season it is scary.
Remembering last year’s incredible good streak of luck and ending with a devastating crash at Budd’s Creek Md.,
I have learned to never trust too much happiness.