Minter: People As Much Fun As Racing At Atlanta Dragway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 15 2011

Funny Car's Bob Tasca hosted NASCAR's Bill Elliott at Atlanta Dragway Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Commerce, Ga. – After two days of rain, the third day of the 31st Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway was picture perfect. The opening rounds in the Full Throttle professional classes produced some upsets in the early rounds and some high-profile match-ups in the finals.

But, as always, any trip to the races is more about the people you see and visit with than what happens on the track.

Among the unexpected meetings was one with Bill Elliott, the NASCAR star who doesn’t live too far across the north Georgia hills from the drag strip. He was hanging in the pit area of Bob Tasca III.

Unlike most Sunday afternoons for the past four decades or so, Elliott was laid-back and relaxed.

As Tasca’s crew poured some alcohol from a can while mixing fuel, Elliott pointed to the clear liquid and said: “Hey, we make that stuff over in Dawsonville.” In addition to being his hometown, Dawsonville at one time was the home of many a backwood moonshiner and now hosts a well attended Moonshine Festival each fall.

But the conversation also had its serious sides, as Elliott and Tasca compared their different motorsports experiences.

Tasca pointed out that while NASCAR drivers make deliberate, thought-out moves on the

Bill Elliott took a trip to the drags on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

track, he and his fellow fuel-class racers work off instincts. If he tries to think during a run, his brain can’t keep up and he’ll be into the catch fence at the end of the track before he remembers to let off the gas.

The conversation about speed and acceleration led to Elliott recounting his experiences back in the late 1980s when he went on a ride-along in an F-16 only to have a mid-air collision with another jet.

A wide-eyed Tasca listened as Elliott recalled seeing another jet coming at his plane from the two-o’clock position at such a rapid pace that he could barely focus on what he was seeing.

Elliott said that while the other plane crashed, his continued on despite missing a big chunk of one wing. The pilot dumped one fuel tank and fuel was streaming from the other. Elliott said the pilot handed him a hand-written note with instructions to eject himself from the plane if the emergency landing started to go badly wrong.

But the pilot made the landing, at about 200 knots, and Elliott was able to walk way.

It was about a year later before he learned that his ejection seat wasn’t even charged.

“Would you do it again?” Tasca asked.

Elliott paused for about a second and said: “Yeah, I’d do it.”

It was also interesting to see the reactions of Elliott and some of the crew members from his son’s race team when Tasca’s crew romped down on the accelerator of Tasca’s Mustang. It’s a rush, even for the man who holds NASCAR’s all-time qualifying mark.

Several reporters asked Elliott about his future driving plans. He said he’d like to run more races, but he also acknowledged that he might have already made his final Sprint Cup appearance.

He said it with a smile, pointing out that he’d had a great career, even on the tail end of it, with some wins for Ray Evernham and some strong runs in the Wood Brothers’ Ford.

Any trip to a major NHRA event also is made more special by a visit with announcer and historian Bob Frey.

For a man who makes his living entertaining audiences, there’s no BS to this man.

He’s a straight shooter, with a great appreciation for his sport and a work ethic to be admired.

The final match-ups were a fitting way to end a day at the races. Tony Schumacher was poised to get his first Top Fuel win at Atlanta, the only track on the schedule where he hasn’t won, but just like 2008, he lost to teammate Antron Brown.

In Funny Car, Jack Beckman, carrying the colors of local sponsor Aaron’s, beat points leader Mike Neff.

And appropriately, the Pro Stock finals of the Summit-sponsored Southern Nationals featured two Summit-sponsored cars, those driven by Jason Line and Greg Anderson, with Line taking the win.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 15 2011
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