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Friday, August 3, 2012

I Went Drag Racing At Pacific Raceways, And I Will Remember It For The Rest Of My Life

Posted by on Fri, Aug 3, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Fewer Blue Angels, and more of these in the Skies!
  • Kelly O
  • Fewer Blue Angels, and more of these in the skies!

Who needs the Blue Angels? Not me. I'll take a demo derby, Figure-8, or NHRA race, over an air show, any day of the week. This past Wednesday I was invited, along with Gov. Christine Gregoire, to Pacific Raceways for a special media treat: an opportunity to ride in a real, pro dragster:

Pacific Raceways’ historic quarter-mile has hosted many legends of drag racing in its 52 years of operation. But Wednesday marked the first day that a sitting state governor has roared down the 1320-feet of concrete and asphalt.

And roared she did! Gov. Christine Gregoire carded an 8.489 at 152.90 miles per hour in the passenger seat of a Frank Hawley Drag Racing School dragster.

In case that bolded chunk of text didn't fully sink in—Gregoire's car went from zero-to-152 miles per hour, in just a little over 8 seconds. NHRA pro driver "Fast" Jack Beckman drove Gregoire, and later, myself, in this monster:

This thing can fly
  • Kelly O
  • This thing can fly

After Gregoire's ride, while I was waiting for my turn, I watched a woman climb out of the dragster. She had naturally red hair, and I heard someone say that she was a Mayor of Someplace. Her face was splotchy and flushed. She repeated, over and over, "That was great, that was so grrrrr-reat." She looked and sounded like she'd just had an orgasm. Her enthusiam comforted my nerves, but it also worried me. Was I ready to have an orgasm in front of all these people? Could I have an orgasm in these giant, flame retardant pants?

I am ready!
  • I am ready!

Stuffing me into the car
  • Stuffing me into the car

As we pulled onto the track, the driver, "Fast Jack," looked at me and smiled through his helmet. After a "yes" nod from me, we pulled over to the quarter-mile track. Jack started doing the loudest, craziest burnout—rubber burned and hot smoke went everywhere. (I was later told, that before a run, racers do a burnout in order to clean and heat the tires. A burnout also leaves a layer of fresh rubber on the track, which improves traction.) I thought ole smiling Jack was just showing off. Then we pulled forward, and after a thumbs up, Jack launched us into outer space down the track. We carded at 150 mph in under
8 seconds.

You cant imagine how this feels on your crotch, and in your ears
  • You can't imagine how this feels on your crotch, and in your ears

"How was it?" asked my date, artist Ellen Forney. "Well," I said "No orgasm, but there was the strangest noise inside my helmet when we took off. All I could hear was this soft, little grunting noise, like "uht, uht, uht." I couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from, then I realized it was me. I couldn't breathe for almost 3 seconds—all I could muster was "uht, uht, uht."

This funny car is no laughing matter
  • This funny car is no laughing matter

The nice folks at Pacific Raceways (hi, Alicia!) were also offering track runs in a funny car. It was also very loud, and very fast. But something about the dragster—being closer to the ground and the open air—seemed worth waiting for. Ellen chose to wait for a turn with Fast Jack.

Ellen Forney: NOT AFRAID
  • Ellen Forney: NOT AFRAID

Ellen's run clocked in at 150 mph too. Why did Fast Jack take the Governor on a run of 152? Maybe, for her, he WAS showing off a little bit.

After the rides, I met this nice man, Jason Fiorito. He told me about how his grandfather build the track, 50 years ago, in the then-countryside of rural Kent Washington. He told me it was a family business again, and he would fight to keep it open. He told me of how new home owners complain about the noise.


Ellen and I talk about how nice the track is, since it was the scrappier Seattle International Raceway. We vow to return.

As we drive away, we can hear and see excitement on the grounds for the big event this weekend—NHRA Northwest Nationals. I wonder if Fast Jack travels with his family, state-to-state, to race. I envy the campers, cars, and the seemingly nomadic way of life. FAST TIMES, 4-ever, man...


Running away, with the NHRA
  • all photos Kelly O
  • Running away, with the NHRA

...and I'll never ever forget that "uht, uht, uht" sound. Thank Pac Raceways!

Tickets for the Northwest Nationals, this weekend, August 3-5, at Pacific


Comments (16) RSS

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Masi 1
I love this.
Posted by Masi on August 3, 2012 at 4:03 PM · Report this
Not bad, but I think the track record for dragsters at Pacific (I still have to keep myself from calling it SIR, which is how it was known for decades) is well over 300 mph.

And yeah, the smell of nitro fuel, bleach, and burnt rubber takes me back to many childhood summers...

Posted by COMTE on August 3, 2012 at 4:11 PM · Report this
That looks like a ton of fun. So envious but happy for you.

My understanding is that Fiorito needs to put on all the PR days he can - he's super unpopular not only with neighbors, who for years have complained he ignores the noise regulations willy-nilly when scheduling his races, but also with drivers, many of whom have switched their events to the Shetlon Racetrack. A vintage-clunker-racing friend of mine tells me the Shelton one was started largely as a reaction to the Fiorito bullshit treatment of ordinary drivers.
Posted by gloomy gus on August 3, 2012 at 4:14 PM · Report this
I love the whiney homeowners who bought a house near a fucking drag racing tack and then whine about the noise.

I used to live near there off 124th St and I loved hearing the dragsters off in the distance. I'm sure when this place was built it was in the middle of nowhere and 12 years ago when I loved in Kent it still kind of was, but now when I go over there I see hundreds of new cookie cutter homes slapped up all over the place...
Posted by high and bi on August 3, 2012 at 4:18 PM · Report this
wisepunk 5
I think those are the alcohol dragsters. The only time I went to the nationals a few years back the nitro-methane big boys made my taint vibrate for about 12 hours after the event. It was like my body was tellling me to get as far away from that noise as possible. and they do clock over 300 miles an hour. In under 4 seconds for a 1/4 mile.
Posted by wisepunk on August 3, 2012 at 4:20 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 6
Ohhhhhh Seattle needs a really good annual demolition derby!!!! If Hansen's arena will promise me that...I'm for the third arena!!!!
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on August 3, 2012 at 4:55 PM · Report this
@6 - Sunday, Sept 2nd at Evergreen Speedway. BE THERE.…
Posted by Kelly O on August 3, 2012 at 5:33 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 8
I suspect the redhead was the Mayor of Kent.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on August 3, 2012 at 5:39 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 9
Oh, and the local Alfa Romeo club hosts track days on the road course, should you want to drive like a real race-car driver.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on August 3, 2012 at 5:49 PM · Report this
The reason Gregoire's run was fastest is because hers was done on fresh tires.

In competition a high-budget team will often use several new sets a day, so every launch that counts gets the best part of the tire.
Posted by Lack Thereof on August 3, 2012 at 6:26 PM · Report this
I don't know whether to like or dislike this piece. I feel like the demographic that writes and consumes The Stranger is so judgmental about people who have fun in ways that they don't approve of (basically anything that a redneck does for fun). Then occasionally one will go to a gun range or car race on some sort of self-satisfied giggly ironic "adventure". Then they find out, hey, things that people do for fun: pretty darn fun! Meanwhile they are still dismissive of the whole universe of other redneck shit they have yet to try. But of all the writers at The Stranger, I think Kelly O gets a pass, she seems like she is cool enough to just like what she likes.

Hey Kelly, give autocross a shot! Cheap, fun, and you can do it in any old car. Friendly rednecks too.

Also, drunk people are so meta!
Posted by ohthetrees on August 3, 2012 at 8:21 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 12
Nice, not a bad day huh?
Posted by Westlake, son! on August 3, 2012 at 9:12 PM · Report this
jcsmith2 13
I feel compelled to add that on Tuesdays during the summer Pac Raceway hosts cycling events. Great for beginning racers and fun to watch.

The good folks at BuDu run the races -
Posted by jcsmith2 on August 4, 2012 at 7:02 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 14
Poor Papa Vel-DuRay. He really did try to get me to enjoy both auto-racing and air shows. I spent years squinting up at the sky trying to see whatever it was we were supposed to be looking at, and watching cars speed around, but it just wasn't my thing. The same goes for golf, but at least there the clothes were tackier, and the course we went to had an amazing googie-style clubhouse.

But I'm glad you had a nice time, Kelly dear.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 AM · Report this
drag race school learn to I am a former super pro champ that raced at a local track on long island new york until it was closed due to noise and local neighborhood development I now live in the phoenix area the same thing is happening at a local track.hopefully this will get overturned we need local racer tracks instead of racing on the streets
Posted by race cars on August 19, 2012 at 11:18 AM · Report this
Lack, sorry but you're wrong. New tires do not guarantee a faster run, particularly at the top speed measurement.
Posted by An actual racer on October 24, 2012 at 9:24 AM · Report this

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