Drag racers drive on tracks that are flat and straight, but Steve Lamplough's track to racing success has featured more dips and curves than a roller coaster.
For the past month and a half, the 35-year-old mechanic with Marylander Racing Inc. in Severna Park has experienced both memorable highs and forgettable lows on the racing circuit.
"I guess you could say I've gone from champ to chump, from being a hero to a zero," said the Severna Park native with a slight laugh.
This past Saturday, his Top-Alcohol dragster encountered mechanical troubles -- forcing him out of competition during the qualifying rounds of the Maple Grove (Pa.) Summer National Hot Rod Association Division I Points Race.
"I guess these things come with the sport," said Lamplough, whose wife, Shelley, manages his racing team.
The 1973 Severna Park High graduate had been on a hot streak on the regional racing scene during May and early June. He garnered first-place finishes at Cecil County Dragway's NHRA Divisional Points race on June 6 and in the Supercharger Nationals at Budds Creek Raceway in St. Mary's County a month earlier.
In the Cecil County race, Lamplough ran his Citgo Superguard dragster more than 221 mph on the quarter-mile stretch (6.19 seconds) for his first win in the NHRA Division I Class. Last season he finished eighth in NHRA Division I, and 30th in the association's world rankings.
It was a day to remember for the entire Lamplough family. His oldest daughter, 18-year-old Dreamer, graduated from Chesapeake High earlier in the day, then the family had a graduation party at the Cecil County Dragway.
The following week, Lamplough blasted down the straightaway in 6.17 seconds (good enough for 10th out of 30 entrants) during the qualifying rounds of the NHRA Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. But he blew a tire early on, forcing him to the pits for the rest of the competition.
"Sure, I was disappointed, but I've been down before, believe me," said Lamplough. "If it [racing] was easy, I probably wouldn't doing it."
The part-time pro wrestling promoter and former Elvaton Little League baseball coach attributed his unexpected misfortune to the elevation and weather conditions on that sultry late-spring afternoon.
"I think the track surface was a little too hot there, plus we were up 2,400 feet [above sea level], so it's a little harder to generate a lot of power," said Lamplough. "When I won in Rising Sun [Cecil County], the conditions and the elevation were just right -- not too hot and about 50 feet above sea level.
Before the Maple Grove race, Lamplough said, "The conditions in Pennsylvania should be excellent, it's about 100 feet above sea level and the track surface is excellent."
After the initial qualifying run there, he had placed in the middle of the pack of 28 cars vying for eight available spots. But just a few hundred feet into the race, his luck ran short once again. A blown blower belt cost him during his second qualifying run.
Lamplough takes what destiny has given him with a great deal of appreciation. He says he is grateful to be blessed with a healthy family (he also has a 15-year-old daughter, Melody). So he likes to work with those who aren't as blessed.
He often visits children with multiple sclerosis and takes part in many fund-raising events. He also shows his dragster to the children, and says that is something that gives him as much pleasure as the kids seem to enjoy from his visits.
"They love to look at the car. Just to see the looks on their faces, it's just a great feeling for me," Lamplough said. "It's shown me another facet of life. They never seem to give up on themselves."
Lamplough hasn't given up either, coming a long way from the days of putting the pedal to the metal of his 1969 Chevrolet Z28 around the local circuit.
In his early years of drag racing, he practically owned Crofton's Capital Raceway's Heavy Eliminator Class from 1973 until 1983. He reached the pinnacle of success at Crofton in 1985 when he was the track's top money-winner.
"I first started racing alcohol dragsters in 1983, and the first time I ran, I did about 163 mph. I'll tell you, it was a heck of a jump from doing 110 in my Z28," he said.
Lamplough will enter the La Grande Molson Championships in Montreal this weekend. He earned his first career alcohol-dragster win there in 1990.
"This is one of my favorite races. It's a big race to the Canadian people. They really show up in droves. Hopefully I'll come back here with a win," he said.
Lamplough eventually would like to move up a notch and race Nitro-Methane dragsters, which offer as much as 4,000 horsepower, nearly 2,000 more than alcohol-burning dragsters.
"Right now I'm about midway to where I want to be. Although I know it might take some time, my goal is to be quicker and faster than anyone who walks the earth," Lamplough said.
"But you can never be satisfied, and you have to take chances. Sometimes you wind up taking a step backward in order to get ahead."