Tiny autos featured in MADD benefit


From the driver's seat of the colorful M-Car racer, this is one hot set of wheels.

The one-third scale model of a NASCAR vehicle is 38 1/4 inches wide, 88 inches long and 25 inches high. It looks like a Matchbox car with a 3.5-horsepower lawn mower engine and plastic stock car body.

But, for the helmeted driver gripping the hand controls between the overhead roll bar and the road 3 inches below, it's all speed and exhilaration. The small car can zip around a road course at 40 mph.

"This is a toy for grown-ups only," said Kim Schaffel, of the Harford County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which is sponsoring an M-Car rally with two days of "professional NASCAR racing" in Bel Air next weekend.

"It's a bad little car, a professional racing machine," said Mrs. Schaffel, whose driving nickname is "Calamity Kim." "If you didn't like racing before, you're definitely going to love this."

"These things bring out the absolute kid in you," said her husband, Steve "Crash" Schaffel.

At least 16 M-Cars -- including one to be driven by MADD members -- will race over a 0.3-mile course with a 400-foot straightaway and hairpin curves that simulate a NASCAR event conducted by professional motorsports racing officials.

Qualifying time trials, heat races, specialty races, consolation races, semifinals and a championship race will be held next weekend at the Bel Air Auto Auction on U.S. 1.

Organizers hope to raise $10,000 to support MADD's programs and to provide the public with alcohol-free fun. They want to start an M-Car club and hold a rally annually.

"You can have fun behind the wheel without drinking and you can do it in a secure, regulated environment," Mrs. Schaffel said. "Serious race car drivers are not drinking and driving. In this race you will not have to worry about someone crossing the center line and hitting you head-on."

The 16 cars were bought by businesses -- many of them in Harford County -- for $2,600, of which $555 per car is a charitable donation to MADD of Harford County.

The group hopes to raise the rest of its $10,000 goal from program advertising sales and gifts from businesses.

Each business has painted its car with sponsors' names and organized a six-member team of drivers and pit crew.

"No blood on my track," warned flagman Chip Story, as he explained the rules for a "test and tune" practice event at Aberdeen Plaza. "This is a safe, competitive way to spend an afternoon in a controlled racing environment."

Mary-Michael "Kamikaze" Kunkel, a driver for the Kunkel Service Co.-WXCY Radio racing team, said she was "a little intimidated" when she first got into the M-Car, but now likes the way it handles.

"You can transform yourself into what you think is a championship driver," said "Outlaw Art" Elsner, owner of Elsner Enterprises, who has teamed with Danny's Citgo and Walker Oil Co. to sponsor a car.

"The competitive edge really takes over," added driver Steve Jones. "Once you're riding in that car, it's a lot of fun. But it sure is a lot more fun when you're in front."

Saturday's racing events will begin at 10 a.m. with practice laps and end with a seniors specialty race at 4:30 p.m.

The official opening ceremony and car parade will be at 10 a.m. next Sunday, and practice laps will start at noon. The 30-lap championship race is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

Admission is free.

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