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A Day at the Races

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A Day at the Races

by Tim Glover

Shortly after we started bracket racing, we heard about the fabled Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway in Covington, Georgia. It was home to the Atlanta $10,000, one of the first really big money races in the country, circa 1964-71.

The Speed Shop was a drag racing heaven, and we looked forward to running on its fabled surface. Unfortunately, the track had been closed for several months due to an ongoing lawsuit. The lease, which dates to 1959, when the track opened, is currently being contested. As of this writing, the Hughes family (the leaseholders) is waiting on a verdict from the Court of Appeals. A favorable verdict will allow a jury trial to determine the validity of the lease.

One of the conditions of the 99 year lease is that two races per year must be held; so a race was planned for January 24, 1993. When we heard the news we jumped at the opportunity to race there.

Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway is special to us because everybody who was anybody in the drag racing world raced there in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the Speed Shop's alumni are Big Daddy Don Garlits, TV Tommy Ivo, Clayton Harris, Jimmy Nix, and Dyno Don Nicholson, a hometown boy. Every so often the Speed Shop would book fuel altereds or Funny Cars or whoever else was on tour at the time, and the place would be packed, rafters to rafters and bleachers to bleachers.

We usually compete at the Atlanta Dragway, a first-class facility. However, there's just something about racing at a track that was "big time" way before drag racing became a big-time sport that gives us a warm feeling of nostalgia - and history.

All four of us - me, wife Wanda, and kids Amy and Russ - crammed into my brother's ancient 1968 Ford F-100 (how appropriate!) and took off to Covington with high hopes. On the way we hit a rain shower, an omen of things to come. After two hours of "Are we there yet?" from Amy and Russ, we finally made it.

We paid our money and drove in; about 40 cars were there, in spite of the light rain. We then made our only wise decision of the day and left our car on the trailer, and decided to go take a look at the starting line. Weeds and grass were peeking out of the cracks all the way down the track; the Speed Shop was showing its age. Because of the lawsuit, no one was allowed onto the property until the day of the event.

Track operator Harold Springs and his help did all they could in a couple of hours, but they could do only so much. As we went back toward our car the rain started up again. Around 12:30 p.m. they removed the timing lights and we knew it was time to hang it up.

Next Sunday the weather was gorgeous: sunny, 66 degrees and 39 percent humidity, perfect for a day at the drags! We piled back into the truck and took off. Evidently, so did half of north Georgia, or at least those who, like us, bracket race for fun. The place was jammed with people and cars. I've never seen so many cars packed into so little space. The tech line stretched the length of the facility, all the way back to the turn-off road, and people told me later that cars and trailers were spilling onto the entrance road. Someone counted more than 200 cars at the tiny Speed Shop on this bright January day.

Finally, we got through tech and waited for 90 minutes to run time trials. Wanda pulled our Camaro up to the line after her burnout, staged, then spun like crazy en route to a lackluster 9.85 eighth-mile time. What? The track's rough, but not that rough! We're embracing history here and all she can manage is a lousy 9.85?

After another 90 minutes, she cleaned the dried grass and red clay off her tires, did another burnout, pulled up to the line ... and sat there. I smelled gas about the same time she gave me a puzzled look. We pushed her back off the line for my first "thrash" of the day - a hung carburetor needle valve. I got it back together just in time before time trials ended, only to discover that the battery had expired from the endless stops and starts of the day.

What else could go wrong? A friend jumped us off and Wanda tried it again, spinning to a depressing 12.41. What was going on? The only clue Wanda could give me was that it was cutting out. I yanked out the cheapo Kmart points and discovered some pitting, but nothing really major.

After reassembling the distributor and putting our tow truck battery in, I discovered my homemade ram air hose had effectively been cutting off the air flow! I made my repairs, buttoned the car back up, said a prayer, and guessed at a dial-in of 9.81.

Sometimes God gives you a gift and you just don't know how to turn around and accept it. We're no exception. Wanda left the line, spinning again, and never looked back. Our opponent never broke the staging beam! Wanda! Look back! Slow down! She turned a breakout 9.61! We, like the Speed Shop, were history.

What did we get out of all of this besides two worn-out kids and a stomach ache? Plenty! Our car ran .02 quicker than it ever has in the eighth-mile, thanks to our new ram air and collector extensions. We also got to race on a historic track that has hosted many famous racers from the past (and present). We can't wait to get back!