He shifts from from stoplights to the drag strip To Woodbine driver Wurtzer, drag racing is more than a sport


Drag racing started as an acceleration contest from stoplight to stoplight.

As population and business development increased, it became nearly impossible to find a deserted stretch of highway for a top-speed race. The illegal contests were crowded from formerly quiet streets and highways, so the racers and their fans moved to the nearest drag strip.

Not everyone made the move without doing a little "street racing". A Woodbine driver, Gus Wurtzer Jr., did not make the move until he learned his lesson.

"I use to street race," said Wurtzer. "I was very foolish. I raced from traffic light to traffic light.

"One night an officer stopped me and told me he would let me go if I took the car straight home. He followed me home to make sure. I knew then it was a signal to stop."

So Wurtzer took his desire to race from the streets to the quarter-mile of 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia. He found it safer, more fun and most of all, with no police officers. He has been going ever since.

Wurtzer attended drag races most of his life. His father, Gus Sr., was into drag racing in the 1950s. Once the young Wurtzer was old enough, he looked for a car to race.

He had his mind set on a car different from the others. Most competitors were racing with lighter, faster cars like Camaros and Chevelles, but Wurtzer purchased a 1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a heavier car than most others.

At first he raced it and used it for basic transportation. As he invested more money into the car, he took it off the road.

Wurtzer has been racing the car since 1981. Until this year, he raced in Class II. In 1991, Wurtzer went to the NED bracket finals at Maple Grove Dragway near Reading, Pa. He was 12th in points at the time but was unable to race regularly afterward and finished 16th in points for the season.

This year, the 29-year-old bachelor built a new home in Woodbine and decided not to race for points. Instead, this winter he made some modifications to race in Class I for cars that run the quarter mile 11.99 seconds or better.

Wurtzer's car is heavy for this class and it surprises people with it's performance. He calls it his 'sleeper.' Wurtzer can easily get the 4,000 pound automobile down the quarter-mile in elapsed time of 11.80 seconds.

To get car into the speeds for Class I, Wurtzer rebuilt the motor with new bearings and advanced the cam one degree.

He picked up two- to three-tenths of a second with the change. On a cool day, he can get the big Monte Carlo into the 11.70 second range.

Wurtzer does all of his own work on the 400-cubic-inch small block Chevrolet engine. As the third generation in the family business -- Wurtzer's Garage on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville, Baltimore County -- he has the mechanical experience. Once in a while, he calls on his father for help.

But Gus Sr. prefers not to help unless his son is in a real bind. But the elder Wurtzer's past experience has helped on a number of occasions.

Two years ago the younger Wurtzer had ignition problems he couldn't find. Leave it to his father, who found the problem in less than five minutes.

Next year, Wurtzer plans on returning to Class II and race for points, unless he gets married and has to turn TOR, from 19 some of his time in that direction.

"Class II is cheaper to run," said Wurtzer. "Also, if your car happens to break down, you can keep your points up by running your street car.

"Some guys who break will even take their tow vehicle and race it, just so they can continue to accumulate the points."

At the end of a season, a couple of points could easily make the difference.

Point chasing also means more pressure to make every show.

Wurtzer is now restoring another 1972 Monte Carlo and when he is done, the car will look just like the one he races but will be street legal.

No matter what class Wurtzer competes in, he'll be at 75-80 every week.

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