in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of December 28, 1999
So what happened to that Boxing Day Special - Part Two that I promised for yesterday? Well, as the title to today's update (or is it episode of that long running soap opera: "As The Wheel Turns" ?) says, good intentions often go for naught. However, I have managed to transcribe the latest news from Sydney about the proposed Motorplex and it's now posted on the Western Sydney Motorplex and Press Clippings page(s).
In a nutshell, here's what happened at the December 16th meeting between the drag racers and the Government: Nothing but an agreement to hold further meetings. Sounds like any government anywhere, doesn't it? Local (British Columbia) racers well know how long it took and how hard it was to get our provincial government to finally cough up the funds needed to get the new Mission Raceway finished and running. And that certainly wasn't a donation; it was compensation for being given a piece of swampland in exchange for a viable, operating drag strip.
I don't want to scare anyone downunder, but do you have any idea how long it took from the closure of the original Mission Raceway to the opening of the new, and much improved, version? Try FIFTEEN YEARS. Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine how much damage that did to the local drag racing and high performance industries, the racers and the fans? And how long it took to recover the lost business and become viable again?
I know what it was like; I was there. When my first blown alcohol dragster was finished and ready to run, the only options open to me were: Seattle (180 miles south); Kelowna (180 miles northeast); or other tracks even further away. Not an inviting prospect for many racers just starting out. In fact, nearly an entire generation of prospective racers missed out on having a local track to learn at. It's one thing to find a way to haul your car twenty or thirty miles to a local facility; it's very definitely quite another matter altogether to haul it across a mountain range or an international border just to make a lap or two.
When the new Mission Raceway Park finally opened in 1992, the effects were immediate. The racers and spectators returned, in droves; the local speed shops, chassis and engine builders experienced a sudden upsurge in business and everyone very quickly forgot how bad things had been. The only "victim" of the new track was Ashcroft's Eagle Motorplex, which has struggled mightily for its very existence in the last few years. When it first opened, in 1989, it was the nearest Canadian option for Lower Mainland racers and as such, enjoyed immediate success. NHRA awarded the track a Division Six WDRS Meet and things went along well.
Then came the reopening of Mission and the racers and specators, slowly at first, faded away. Some felt it was a bonus having two tracks within reasonable driving distance, but soon, the long drive through the often treacherous Fraser Canyon, became less inviting and by 1994, Ashcroft saw fewer Vancouver-area racers and fans. Things got so bad by early 1999 that there was serious talk of the track being closed. Then it got even worse, at the (now) FMDRS Points Meet earlier this year, when it became obvious that the track surface condition had deteriorated to the point where it was no longer truly safe for a Top Alcohol car to negotiate.
The hardest-working man in Canadian drag racing, Bill Kraus, almost single-handedly organized a "Save The 'Plex" campaign and raised the needed funds for a complete resurfacing job, which was carried out in August. Despite that effort, NHRA has now dropped the track from its points meet roster for the 2000 season. That alone may be the final nail in the coffin of the "little track that could". I, for one, would be very sad to see it go, as Ashcroft provided a place to race in Canada, when my opportunities to do so were severely limited. But the reality is, that without a significant market to draw on, and a small racer base in the immediate area, that the 2000 season may well be the last for the Motorplex.
It's time to turn our attention south, and east, all the way to Florida for the next item. You may have heard about this one already, but it's worth repeating. On New Year's Eve -- yes, just three days from now -- Don "Big Daddy" Garlits will be strapping himself into a Top Fuel dragster again. In fact, he's going to be on the Moroso Motorsports Park starting line at midnight that night -- the very start of the 21st century -- against long-time rival, Shirley ( definitely NOT "Cha Cha" anymore) Muldowney for a match race.
When I first heard about this event, over the internet, I just put it down to someone's twisted version of reality. But it's true. The match race is just one part, albeit a very large part, of a four-day "extravaganza" billed as Auto Fest 2000. The promoters have booked in eight Nitro Funny Cars (no word as to what percentage they'll be running) and full fields of Pro Mods and other categories. They've even announced that John Force will be there as the Master of Ceremonies. While some of the promotions surrounding this show have shades of "millennium madness" surrounding them, the show should be worth attending, if you're anywhere near Florida later this week.
They've also announced that a webacast of the race will be broadcast, but at last check, still hadn't "enabled" that page on their website. Let's hope it isn't pay per view, and also, that they have lots of streams available on their server. By the way, it's been nearly eight years since Garlits last drove a fuel car and according to reports, his eyes are healthy enough to withstand the g-forces when the chutes open this time. Also, he says, that the Paul Smith owned and wrenched car that he'll be driving, has "soft chutes" and they won't be opened until he's off the throttle. With a career best of 5.07 at 287, which seems awfully slow by today's standards, doesn't it?, Don is really looking forward to another chance to run a four at over 300 mph. Good luck, "Old Man."
Here's the promotional blurb on the event, as posted on their website:AutoFest 2000: Millennium New Year's Eve Racing and Car Show Event - Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. December 30, 1999 -- January 2, 2000. Four days of racin' roddin' and parties! A party so big it spans two centuries! Nitro Millennium Mania -- The Last Race of the Century! Grand Marshall: John Force. Featured drivers: Don "Big Daddy" Garlits vs. Shirley Muldowney.
Sorry folks, but that's all the time we have available for updates today. You'll just have to come back again tomorrow, to read all the latest news and views from the wide, weird, wild, world of drag racing. Until then, try to keep the shiny side shiny, etc.