At the beginning of every year, the goal of many competitors at the 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia is to be in the top 16 in points at the end of the season. Finishing in the top 16 qualifies the driver to be part of the team that represents the dragway in the Northeast Division Bracket Finals held every year at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
It is not an easy thing to do, regardless of the class. It requires dedication, endurance, good equipment, consistency and a little bit of luck.
Ray Lewis of Woodbine finished 17th in Class I competition last year. He was running near the top 10 when he blew his motor near the end of the season, forcing him to miss three weeks of competition. By the time he returned, he didn't have enough time to make up the points and just missed making the cutoff.
This year Lewis started off with the same goal, to finish in the top 16. Lewis feels he will make it this time.
Seven years ago, Lewis brought a 1967 Chevy II. It was a street car that he just wanted to play around with. His friend, David Wilson, helped him with the engine work and encouraged him into taking the car up to 75-80 to see how it would run. After one run down the quarter-mile, Lewis was hooked. He has been going ever since.
Lewis constantly works on improving the performance of his cars. He started out in Class II for cars that run elapsed times (ETs) of 12 seconds and slower. Lewis began in the 13-second range and by the end of the third year, he had the car in the 11s. Rather than install roll bars that are required in the next class for cars with ETs of 11.99 seconds and quicker, Lewis purchased another Chevy II, a 1966 model that he could race in Class I.
Starting off in the 11-second range in Class I, Lewis had the car racing consistently in the low 10s by the end of last year and almost made the the top 16 with it.
Over the winter Lewis purchased a Camaro especially built for drag racing. He felt that the car would give him the consistency to make it to the bracket finals. He brought the car from George Smith, a driver who is well known at 75-80. The car has an all-tube Austin chassis with a fiberglass Camaro body. It is powered by a 427 cubic inch Chevrolet motor.
The car is lighter than his Nova and handles better coming off the line. It has no problem hitting 143 miles per hour.
The move has paid off. The car has been performing consistently throughout the long season. Racing every Friday and Saturday night is hard on equipment, but the Camaro has been almost trouble free. Other than normal maintenance, he had to replace his transmission once.
As of last weekend, Lewis is sixth in the point standings. With two weeks remaining, he is almost a sure bet of achieving his goal this year.
"I am feeling the pressure now to do well," said the 31-year-old. "I am trying to stay competitive and not break anything."
Lewis has had a consistent season. He has gone to the final round twice, quite a feat for any driver, considering there are normally five to seven rounds of qualifying. A lot of hard work has gone into his season.
Lewis and his wife, Tina, have two small children, Zack, 2, and Brad, 4, who love going to the races and watching their father. But because of their age, they only go once in a while.
Lewis receives a lot of help from Mitch Wellingham. His sponsorship support comes from Arbutus Auto Body, Sev Tingle of Pro-Start Performance in Monrovia and Kendall Oil, distributed by Ditch, Bower & Taylor of Baltimore.
After the NED bracket finals, Lewis plans to install another motor in his car, a big-block 427. He expects to break the eight-second range with the car in the future. On the horizon, Lewis would like to own a dragster. But first he wants to make it to Maple Grove.