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Performance & Hotrod Business - July '15

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96 n Performance & Hotrod Business n July 2015 By doug dwyer ONE MORE THING... The Lions' Roar I t's late, it's Lions Drag Strip. It's Saturday night in the years before tele- vision informed us that our innocence had died. It's cold, as we are only a football field from the ocean. There is heavy mist in the air. Strung by invisible cable, halos sur- round lights a little over a thousand feet down the track. The lights seem to be sup- ported against the black sky by pyramids of mist draped from the individual bulbs. The staging area is crowded with people in zipped jackets slowly shuffling around. Only a few do not have their hands in their pockets; almost all are the remnants of the $100-round battles fought since sundown. It's been a 16-car, $1,000-purse, Top Fuel show on this winter evening. From all over the country, snowbirds have traveled west to keep racing. It's the Top Fuel Dragster final and everyone who came is still there. Many spectators are pinned to the chain link fence that borders the pavement; every seat in the stands is full. Down the strip of blacktop go the "last standing" diggers, one pushed by a shiny new Ford Country Squire wood-trimmed wagon with two slicks on the roof; the other an older black pickup, a shabby camper on the bed, with three guys sitting on its tailgate, almost dragging their feet. The four vehicles crisscross at the far end and turn toward the starting line. The drama is as thick as the air. First you hear the wheeze of the push truck straining to bring their weapons to life, then the throaty four-barrel groan of the wagon as they both bring the dragsters up to start- ing speed. Suddenly a crack of thunder startles everyone as the fire-belching stilettos light- off on the return road. Everyone, from stag- ing area VIPs to those with tickets, are sud- denly animated and shaking their heads. Backwards through the timing lights they come, X-turns are attempted in the staging lane, and from out of the push vehicles a half-dozen crew members appear. Like corner men in a prize fight, they mass on their respective entrants. Flashes from cameras compete with flashes from the thousands of hand grenades going off, one after the other. There is a magic sense of urgency in the air, along with nitro tears and methane nostrils. In spite of the toxic air, the crew mem- bers each have jobs to do. In a practiced dance, they tend to the motors, wipe the tires, and attempt to clean the goggles of the drivers. Some are just pushing, first backwards and then forwards. It appears as if the long, brightly colored beasts are capable only of making horrendous noise, and not able to move under their own power. As the dragsters finally point in the right direction, a crew member from each team stands in front of their designated machine. The Country Squire guys are all in matching jackets, the tailgate guys sweatshirts and Levis. The only perceptible movement in the cockpits are the drivers' right hands, held high above the shoulder, outstretched and tickling the long chrome brake handles. It seems out of place, more like a hand brake on an old stage coach than a device to slow a modern race car. It has to be that way, as their feet are dedicated to the two pedals that control the mechanisms for the "go" part of this show. The left hand is on the steering wheel, or maybe it should be called the "direction influencer wheel," because when the left foot relaxes and allows the clutch to connect the power to the 11.00X16 drag slicks, and the right foot pulls the muzzle off the 6-71 GMC supercharger forcing nitromethane and oxygen into 392 cubic inches of cast iron Chrysler, the wheel in the drivers' hands has only the slightest influence on where the car actually goes. The cars inch slowly forward on their own now. They seem to be following the guidance of the two men waving first arms, then only their hands. Then the guides seem to bless the cars with their thumbs up and retreat into the crowd behind the fire. Except for the noise and fire, it's as if time has stopped, No one is breathing, hands are pressed against the sides of most heads. Every single eye is on the starting lights hung high across the strip and on the two behemoths snarling below them. The noise is deafening, but you can still hear the sound of your own heart beating in your ears. One yellow light, a green one and a perfect choreography of hands and feet by both drivers creates one continuous explo- sion that forms two huge white clouds from each lane. The flickering lights are shadowed by the cloud that soon merges into one ground-bound cumuli, unbro- ken, billowing white, for 1,320 feet. The monsters produce an organic wail that harmonizes at half-track and reaches a full guttural crescendo at 1,000 feet. Then, 7 seconds later, they are into the darkness beyond the last clocks, the fires go out, it's all over. Two parachutes, first cousins to a hot air balloon, pop out to catch the depleted warriors. It's dark and slick in the short shut-down area. Half the people in the staging area are jumping up and down; all of the people in the stands and against the fence are cheering. Only 8,000 or 9,000 people were there that night, or any other night in those days, and even though most of Los Angeles could hear the engines echo through the basin, only those inside the gates knew what it was all about. If you were there, you never forgot it. Doug Dwyer started as shop help for Carroll Shelby in 1963, including three years as a tire technician for Shelby's Goodyear Racing tire fran- chise. Dwyer enjoyed a career in sales and marketing, and retired as executive VP of Schiefer Media Inc. He raced motor- cycles and road racing cars, and never worked for a company that was not a SEMA member, except for the U.S. Army, 199th Lt. Inf. (Vietnam 1969). (www.facebook.com – Friends of Lions Club Drag Strip)

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