The nice thing about drag racing is that anyone can race. There are classes for every level, for the novice driver to the weekly competitor, for the beginner and the professional.
Last Sunday at 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia, 20-year-old Stephanie Howes of Westminster made her first run down the quarter-mile track. She never had been to a race until she started going with her boyfriend two years ago.
Howes' boyfriend, Tony Battaglia of Union Bridge, had been trying to get her to race her car for some time. Last Sunday, at his urging, Howes tried racing.
"I thought they were having a powder-puff race, so I thought Sunday would be a good time to try it."
At first she was going to race in the powder-puff race, but when it looked like they weren't going to have one, she decided to race in the trophy class for beginners. It is a division where car enthusiasts can take their cars right off the road and race them. Instead of racing for money, the drivers receive a trophy.
Howes' first couple of times down the track were timing runs to dial her car in. She was nervous the first time she drove her 1994 Dodge Shadow to the starting line. At 75-80, after the driver races to the finish line a quarter-mile away, the track continues over a hill providing the cars ample time to slow down before turning off onto the return road. Howes' greatest fear was missing the turn-off road since she had never seen it. But her first run went off smoothly. She did the quarter-mile in 19.63 seconds, or 70 mph.
"I red-lighted [reacting too quickly to the starting lights and driving away from the starting line before the green go signal] my second run," said Howes. "My boyfriend told me to deep stage and leave a little early."
She was more nervous after the second run, but another good run gave her the confidence to go on to the elimination round.
In bracket racing, the fastest car isn't always the winner. Consistency counts more than speed. It is the one who comes closest to his dial-in time. Using dial-ins is a form of handicap racing. To make the race even, the slower car gets a head start equal to the difference between its dial-in and the dial-in of the other car. The race to the finish line is a test of more than just speed because each driver is trying to match his dial-in.
Howes' Shadow was consistent during her timing runs, from which she selected her dial-in time.
By the time she took to the track for the first round, her confidence showed. She left with a good reaction time and did not let the faster car approaching from the rear rattle her. She won the first round she ever raced. Her dial-in time was 19.46 seconds. She ran 19.47 seconds.
The second round she red-lighted, but was happy with her first day. She won a trophy for going past the first round.
Racing down the quarter-mile was a thrill to the graduate of Westminster High. Now she knows why her boyfriend enjoys it so much.
"I understand it more now that I raced," said Howes. "Before I just sat there and watched. Now I can appreciate more what is going on."
Howes doesn't plan on racing every week, but expects to take her Shadow at least one more time this year. In the meantime, she'll continue to go to the track and give Battaglia moral support.
Dan Householder of Sykesville took top honors in Class I competition at 75-80 Dragway. Reuben Standifer of Mount Airy was a semifinalist. Sev Tingle of Mount Airy won three rounds, and Matt Repp of Keymar won two rounds. In Class II competition, Chris Hruska of Mount Airy beat out the competition. Erv Hare of Mount Airy and Westminster's George Hoff and Steve Dustin all went three rounds. For the second consecutive week, Tim Lippy of New Windsor won the motorcycle class.
On Sunday, Jim Peddicord of Westminster went to the semifinals in Class I and Joe Parks of Hampstead won Class II.
At Mason-Dixon Dragway, Robert McGraw of Sykesville was runner-up in the motorcycle division. Brian Fandel of Mount Airy was semifinalist.
In oval track racing at Hagerstown Speedway, Gary Stuhler of Westminster placed fourth in the late-model feature event. Charlie Schaffer of Hampstead was ninth.
In the late-model feature at Winchester Speedway, Rick Jones of Westminster finished 10th. At Lincoln Speedway, Jesse Wentz of Manchester finished third in the Pennsylvania State Sprint Championship. Randy Zechman of Westminster placed fifth in the semi-late feature.
In micro-sprint racing at Challenger Speedway, Brad McClelland of Westminster was second and Dave Parrish of Westminster was fourth. Westminster drivers did well in the micro-sprint feature at Trail-Way Speedway. Mike Stull was third followed by Parrish, Steve Owings and McClelland. Wayne Karcher of Upperco was ninth. John McDonogh of Finksburg was second in the thundercar feature, Mark Shorb of Westminster was fifth, Greg Messersmith of Hampstead was sixth and Bradley Green of Westminster eighth. Jeff Young of Westminster was fourth in the four-cylinder feature followed by Mike Walls of Taneytown in fifth.