THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

Long ago story and forgive me that I forget some of the details. I’m suffering from that CRS disease (Can’t Remember Shit). But it brings up an important lesson I learned the hard way and one I preach today.

I had been fairly successful in the ‘70s bracket racing, but by 1980 I got “talked into” building a Comp Eliminator C/EconoDragster. Truth is; and I found this out first-hand; there is nothing “econo” about it. But I was okay and had begged, borrowed and stole as much money as I could to build a new M&S Race Car’s chassis and a John Gulius engine.

Here’s where the memory gets a little fuzzy. I think the first race we attended was the Englishtown divisional event which back then was held in May. Qualified but had some engine problems. We repaired that rather easily and competed at another divisional event before attending the NHRA Summernationals and then the Grandnationals in Canada. But it was actually the Summernationals in 1981 where I learned that valuable lesson.

I had almost literally grew up in the sport competing at Englishtown and Island Dragway, both in New Jersey. I was always under the “assumption” there was sand trap at the end of Englishtown should you run off the end.

On a qualifying pass at the Summers in ‘81, I lose the brakes in the car. Pulled the parachute which didn’t slow the car down very much. During that period of time after crossing the finish line, my thoughts ran to, “I’m going to end up in the sand and what a mess it’s going to be to clean it up.”

You do know what “thought” means, don’t you? Or “assume.” (Make an Ass Out of U and Me)

As I approached the end of the pavement, to my surprise was simply a grass field which incidentally ran downhill. Now what?

To attempt to slow the car down, I eased it over to the fence line and began scrubbing some speed by hitting the fence posts. That is until I got to the end, choosing between two posts of the cyclone fence and sliding underneath, landing on Pension Road which fronted the track.

The moral of the story? Whenever you attend a new facility; and not a bad idea even for the ones you frequent the most; do yourself a favor and take a ride all over to familiarize yourself with any nuances which may help you to navigate the facility; not only limited to top end, but also placements of certain things such as turn-offs, time slip booth, scales, etc.

With minimal damage, the car was brought back to M&S to front half it, repairing it rather quickly with a lot of help from my girlfriend (no, that’s not the only reason I eventually married her).

Back to 1980 and the Grandnationals in Montreal, Canada. Qualified in the No. 16th spot in a 16-car field, but rain called for a halt in the action, with the event to be completed the following weekend. Truth is that we were severely down on power (and money) and on the sportsman ladder would have to face the No. 8 qualifier who had us covered by a lot. We made the choice to drag everything back home to New Jersey and attempt to decide should we waste any more money by returning with the thinking we would lose first round anyway.

I do clearly remember being in the street outside my parent’s house with the rig, washing it up after getting home, attempting to make a decision. Oh, what the hell, it’s only money, so we towed all the way back up to Canada. First round, we win on a holeshot. Second round, another holeshot win. Semifinals I remember facing the supercharged and very loud entry of Frank Mazi. As we went into Stage, he blips the engine and I’m thinking, “What the hell am I racing?”

With that dreaded CRS kicking in, I don’t remember how the race went down except that I did get the win light, which is all that mattered. With that, I’m going to my first NHRA national event final round. Except of course I am set to face the similarly classed, but exceedingly faster Econo Dragster of Bill Mitchell. A valiant try, but no cigar this time, as Mitchell outran us to score another national event victory for himself and a runner-up for me. The one that got away.

I’ve been fortunate to win national events in three different categories but would like another chance at a fourth in Comp. Only problem is that other dreaded disease “fundsarelow.” Maybe when we win the lottery, although my wife had better buy more “scratch offs.” -JOHN DiBARTOLOMEO