Joe Cook of Silver Run began his drag racing on the street, but three years ago he realized how dangerous it was.

He turned his back on street racing and has been a regular at the 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia, Frederick County, ever since.

"I built this new motor and was curious how fast it would go," said Cook about his first trip to 75-80. "And the only way I could findthat out was to go to a drag strip.

"After my first time there I went back every couple of weeks. The next thing I knew, I was hooked.I have been going ever since."

Cook is at 75-80 every weekend. Heis not hard to find, since his big silver blue 1979 Ford Thunderbirdstands out and attracts the eye of the casual observer.

Equipped with a big-block 429-cubic-inch engine, Cook runs his car in the Class II bracket(cars that do the quarter-mile in 12 seconds or more).

Last Sunday, when the season opened at 75-80, Cook was there with his T-Bird, known as "Night Thunder."

Since it was opening day, Cookhad the effects of the winter layoff to overcome.

"I won the first round; the car ran good for the first week out," Cook said. "My reaction time was good. I was cutting good lights. But I broke out the second round."

He "broke out" -- or ran too fast -- because he beathis estimated dial-in time by six-thousandths of a second.

"I made some minor changes over the winter," Cook said. "I installed a better carburetor and a new tachometer, and I have to get use to them."

Cook said he is looking forward to a good year in 1991. He has donewell in Class II racing, and he just missed making the top 16 in points last year.

Last year he was 17th going into the final point night, but lost on the first round and missed making the bracket finals. He finished the season in 20th spot.

This year he is confident that he will make the elite top 16 group that represents 75-80 at the Bracket Nationals in the fall at the Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.

The 22-year-old graduate of Westminster High works during the day as a design draftsman for R.M. Schmidt, a mechanical contracting firm in Westminster. The rest of the time he is working on his cars.

This winter, Cook has been working extra hard to build a 1965 FordFalcon to run in Class I. He expects to have the car completed by May.

Cook is building the Falcon from the ground up after finding itpartially finished in Taneytown.

The car will have a Alston Chassis and a 460-cubic-inch high-horsepower motor. Cook picked up the engine block from a junk yard and had Morris Automotive in Hampstead do the machine work. He has worked closely with Trickflow Specialties inOhio in putting the engine together.

Cook is taking the expensiveroute in building the engine, but he feels it will be worth. The engine will have aluminum heads and larger ports, and he estimates that he will have invested more than $10,000 in it.

Cook is the first to realize sponsors have been very instrumental in his drag racing. Hanover Performance, Interstate Batteries, Doug's Garage, 3D Manufacturing, Auto's Unlimited and Sunoco keep him going.

His crew, Rod Cornbrooks and Craig Devilbiss of Westminster, along with girlfriend Shelly Rote help out, and Cook knows he couldn't race without them.

Cook is looking forward to taking his car out for the first time and firing up the engine he has built.

"The initial force coming out ofthe hole is going to be tremendous. It's going to be different," Cook said.

The car is expected to run in the nine-to-10-second range,reaching speeds of 140 to 150 miles an hour.

Once Cook gets his Falcon completed, he hopes to get his license and make one divisional this year at Maple Grove or U.S. 13 Dragway in Delmar, Del., to set up for next year. His plan is to run as many divisionals as possible next year.

Cook refuses to look too far into the future, but it is not hard to notice a trace of a deep desire to race professionally. For now, though, he is keeping everything in perspective and enjoying his hobby.

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