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Texas Motor Speedway Has Straightened Out Its Act

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 6 2009
 Driver Nathan Hale, of Lewisville, TX runs his 1958 Chevy pickup in the Sportsman Division during the Scion Drag-n-Brag at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo By Tom Pennington/Getty Images for the Texas Motor Speedway)

Driver Nathan Hale, of Lewisville, Texas runs his 1958 Chevy pickup in the Sportsman Division during the Scion Drag-n-Brag at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo By Tom Pennington/Getty Images for the Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Separated in age by 30 years and wheeling vehicles at opposite ends of the bling scale, Nathan Hale and Don Blackburn spent Friday night racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Drag racing at Texas Motor Speedway. What do you think about that?” said Kenton Nelson, TMS’ assistant general manager and vice president of events. “You noticed that Eddie’s not here, right? Exactly.”

Nelson was referring to TMS president Eddie Gossage, who has vowed that a fully operational and sanctioned drag strip would be built on this property over somebody’s resignation … preferably his. With Gossage on vacation, Nelson presided over the inaugural session of the Scion “Drag-n-Brag” program. The six-week initiative is TMS’ attempt to give would-be Metroplex street racers a safe, eighth-mile environment to work off their summertime need for speed.

TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval plays host to NASCAR’s three national touring series and an IndyCar event each season. For “Drag-n-Brag”, pit lane was the center of attention, set up as the eighth-mile strip. Competitors in four classes – Street Outlaw, Sportsman, ATI Success Driven Tuner and Street Bandits – lined up and staged on the apron between Turns 3 and 4. Burnouts and side-by-side racing followed for two hours, while participants in the “Show & Shine” portion of the program held court in the Sprint Cup garage area.

The program is being sponsored by three Scion dealerships serving Dallas-Fort Worth – Freeman Scion of Hurst, Scion of Fort Worth and Texas Scion of Grapevine.

Despite the Fourth of July holiday weekend exodus, Nelson was pleased with the all-important car-count.

“There were 101 cars in the ‘Show & Shine’ and right at 200 drag racing cars,” Nelson said. “We probably had maybe 750 to 1,000 people in the grandstands. We’ve got a lot of room to improve technically on our show and we’ll work those kinks out. I’ve got a long list in my phone already. But I’ll pat every one of my employees on the back. They did a really good job pulling this thing together. The most important thing is I wanted to make sure this was a safe environment for the drag racers. And the TMS fire and safety crew is second to none. We’ll do bigger and better next week.”

Both Hale, of Lewisville, and Fort Worth’s Blackburn said they would return for Week No. 2, albeit with definite opinions about the format. For instance, all races were started “Pinks” style via arm-drop, with Scott Garrett taking the place of an NHRA-style “Christmas tree.” At the top end, no elapsed time/speed slips were issued.

“The arm-drop is neat,” said Hale, whose slammed  1958 Chevrolet Apache Fleetside pickup easily was the crowd favorite. “And I don’t care none about that stuff (ET/MPH slip). The truck is going to do what it’s going to do. What it tells me on the board, that don’t matter to me. I just want to run it down through there with my buddies and have a good time, you know?”

Hale, 27, owns Hale’s Speed Shop in Lewisville and his “Rat Rod” Chevy – powered by an LS1 Corvette V-8 – finished the night 1-1 in the Sportsman Division. Blackburn compiled the same record in Tuner with his silver 2004 Mercedes SLK.

“I have another vehicle I race seriously, and I just race this one for fun,” said Blackburn, 57, who regularly campaigns a 1950 Chevy pickup on the eighth-mile Texas Raceway strip in Kennedale. “I just put another engine in my truck, so I’ve got to get 500 miles on it. And that’s a lot of driving. Good Lord. When my truck’s not running, I take this out to Kennedale. I’ve got maybe 30 runs on it at Kennedale.”

For the record, Blackburn said he is leasing the Benz, which will be turned in when the lease expires in February.

“Why am I here? Because I love to race,” Blackburn said. “And I wanted to come out here and play with the kids. I wanted to come and race on the Speedway, for sure.  I came to the IRL race (June 6) and got a good look at what we were going to be doing out here…saw how big the pit lane was. I thought it was bigger than it actually is. It’s shorter than I expected, for being a mile and a half-around. That runoff’s not very far. I imagine these cars that are turning 5s and 6s are going to have hell down there at the other end.”

Blackburn said the format is OK, although he’s not a fan of either the arm-drop start or the lack of verified results. “I’m a little disappointed in how they’re doing this, and my drag racing buddies probably won’t come out here and do this,” Blackburn said. “We want times and we want a light. We practice running lights all the time. I would want to know what my ET is, but they’re not going to do it in this deal. They said the attraction of this is the street racing style and that’s what they’re trying to accomplish, which is fine with me. I’m going to come out here and do it, but I can see where it’s not accurate.

“And I think Fort Worth needs to promote it better. The kids that I saw out here in my class, I wouldn’t suspect they were out street racing much. They don’t look like ‘street racing kind of people.’ They really don’t. I would say you’ve got more street racers over in that ‘Show & Shine’ crowd than you do over here racing.”

Hale declined to classify himself as a bonafide street racer. “Not really. I ain’t going to say I haven’t raced on the street,” said Hale, accompanied by wife Jenna. “We definitely do but I’m married and I can’t be getting thrown in jail and all that racing on the street. I don’t do it that often, but we have done it some with this vehicle. This is my every-day driver.”

Hale, who bought the classic Chevy from a family member for $2,000, has since built the Corvette engine and updated the chassis with disc brakes, as well as power steering and air-conditioning.

“This car, it’s fully restored. It just ain’t painted,” said Hale, referring to the faded blue body and white top. “I like this kind of old patina look, but we do paint. We can make ‘em nice and shiny if that’s the route we want to go.”

Hale plunked down $40 at TMS – $30 for the show and $10 to rent a helmet.

“So it cost me $40 to race, and I got to go down through there two runs,” Hale said. “Lot of people ain’t going to pay to do that, you know? That’s not worth it. But it was a blast, so I will come back. Fortunately, I have enough money to do that. Some kids don’t. You got some kids barely getting out here and putting gas in their car.

“What I think they should do is open it up. Instead of all these classes and brackets, just let the guys go out there and have a good time. Pay your money and as many times as you want to run it, run it. Like, some of these guys ran one time and got kicked out. I mean, how many times those guys are going to come back, I don’t know. There’s a lot of slower vehicles that aren’t going to make it past the first round. They get to race once and that’s it. They won’t be back. They need to open this thing up and just let us have fun. Arm drop-it, and let us have a good time. Don’t make it a competition. We ain’t out here trying to win trophies. We just want to line up against our buddies and race.”

Nelson said he is anticipating plenty of similar feedback this week before Race No. 2 next Friday.

“We’ve got a lot of forms and threads on our website right now,” Nelson said. “We went through a lot of that this week with tire specs and those kinds of things. Bottom line, this thing is not going to be a real technical type of event.  I mean, we’re not that. If we were doing that, we’d have our own drag strip. Do we want ‘em to come back? We don’t want ‘em bad-mouthing us and not having a fun time. But they’ve got to understand this is not an NHRA or IHRA type drag strip. We want everybody to come out here and have fun. We’re going to put on a good show for ‘em. We’ve got all kind of entertainment the rest of the summer.”

Mid-1960s Ford Mustangs dominated the opening night of racing, as the original Pony Car won two of four classes. Scotty Stockton of Flower Mound drove a 1965 Mustang to victory in the Street Outlaw Division while Michael Painter of Sanger won Sportsman with a ’66 Mustang. Alan Hill of Grandview won the ATI Success Driven Tuner Division with a 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Matt Floris of Watauga won Street Bandits with a 2004 Plymouth Neon.

Each division winner received three points, with two to each runnerup and one point for all competitors regardless of finish. Two bonus points will be awarded to competitors at the conclusion of the season for racing all six weeks. Point leaders in each division following the Aug. 7 finale will be crowned champions.

Jimmy Jordan of Northlake claimed “Best in Show” during the “Show & Shine” program with his 1941 Willys coupe.  Class winners were Steve Pace of Flower Mound for models 1972 and older with his 1956 Chevy pickup; Josh Miles of Denton for models 1973 to current with a 2005 GMC Canyon, and Vincent Goodwin of Fort Worth for all Scion models with his 2005 xB.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 6 2009
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  • sm says:

    Interesting. Good venue for TSM to put forth for the locals. Would like to see more of this type of event for the locals.