Mason-Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown opens its season today, and 58-year-old Paul Dutterer of Westminster will be there.
His 1979 Ford Mustang, "Iron Thunder," will be competing in the Class I bracket with Bobby Gue behind the wheel.
Dutterer has been around racing all of his life. He attended Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa., when he was young, and before he was old enough to have his driver's license, he was racing Ford coupes out in the back yard.
Dutterer built and raced his own cars in the late 1940s and eventually turned over the driving chores toconcentrate on building and maintaining the cars.
He had several drivers, including Jerry Banks, Gary Woolford and the legendary DizzyDean Renfro of Manchester. Dutterer and his drivers raced all over the state, including the two Carroll County tracks, Taneytown and Condon speedways, in the 1950s.
It was near the end of the 1960s that Dutterer switched from the oval track to drag racing.
"I had just built a new car, and it was totaled the very first night out," he recalled.
Dutterer felt the car had been deliberately wiped out by another car. Frustrated with the banging and crashing on the oval tracks, Dutterer turned to drag racing and has become a fixture at the area strips.
Now, Dutterer and his entire family are involved in drag racing. They are one of many Carroll County families who participate indrag racing every weekend.
Dutterer will have his 1979 Mustang atMason Dixon when the gates open today. During the off-season, he kept busy building a 1969 Mustang -- a car he is building from scratch.
"I am trying to go as cheap as I can," said Dutterer about his unusual project.
To cut down on expenses, Dutterer makes many of his own parts, saving weight wherever he can. He makes suspension parts, brackets and rocker shaft supports, to name a few.
His brother Nevin is a machinist who helps make many of the parts. Dutterer's enginework is done by Phil Benedict of Phil's Engine Service in Waynesboro, Pa.
Drag racing is often called a family sport. Different familymembers have received family of the year awards at the annual awardsbanquet held by the dragway.
"We picnic and have a good time," said Paul Dutterer. "We try not to run each other. We also try to help each other out."
Dutterer's two sons-in-law, Ronnie Procter and Mark West, also race, while his daughters, Theresa and Karen, help their husbands in the pits. Proctor runs a Mustang, and West has a Chevrolet.
Dutterer's wife, Louise, is kept busy by her grandchildren. Both Paul and Louise work for the family flower shop in Westminster, Dutterer's Florist.
They enjoy racing at Wayne and Elmer Wachter's dragway in Washington County, even though it's not the closest.
"You can talk to them," said Dutterer. "They are always making improvements for the fans and the competitors."
With good cars, Dutterer hasn't had trouble attracting good drivers. His current driver, Bobby Gue of Monrovia, joined the team near the end of the 1990 season. Dutterer is looking forward to a having Gue with him for the 1991, sincehe believes a driver needs time to get used to the car.
Dutterer does most of his work on the car at home during the week. Since consistency is so important in drag racing, he believes in leaving the caralone at the track.
"If it is running good, I leave it alone," hesaid. "You have to be consistent to win."
Dutterer says he likes Gue because of the driver's consistency. Gue can make three to four runs with exact time.
Dutterer has his mind set on two goals this year -- finishing his 1969 Ford Mustang and a championship at Mason-Dixon Dragway. He's done just about all he can regarding the latter, but he's still got work to do to get that car ready, even though he's been laboring on it since last summer.
"When you start with practically nothing, it takes a long time to build," Dutterer explained. "I hope to finish by April, but it all depends on money."