In an era when even obscure makes and models have their own organized drag races and events, don't you think it's time to simplify this hobby? Part of America's love for the automobile comes from the outlaw spirit that the dry lakes, abandoned airstrips, and illegal street races brought out in our culture.
Enter the "Flashlight Drags," the brainchild of Valencia, PA, promoter Dan Chisholm and his partners, Tom "Turk" Napierkowski and Michael Schindel. Together they created Altered Gas Performance Events (www.alteredgas.com) and bring back a little bit of that outlaw spirit to a normally organized scene.
Their Flashlight Drags is purposely scheduled around the time of the Hot-Rod Super Nationals at Canfield, Ohio's fairgrounds. That Memorial Day weekend car show is famous. However, the cruising is infamous, with police hassling kids for even the smallest infraction or squeal of tires. What's an enthusiast to do when his fun is dampened by local police? Head over to the local drag strip for a ride back in time.
The event is in no way connected to the Super Nationals, but nearly everyone in attendance was at the "big show" or will be there over the weekend. Quaker City Dragway becomes a place, away from the crowds on Route 224, for the guy or gal who just wants to beat on their car a bit, race for fun or even for "pinks."
In 2001, Chisholm approached track operator Dan Swindell and swore to him that an event like this would attract spectators. The track owner knew that Chisholm had proven this point with a street car gambler race in the past. Others thought they were crazy, but the regular Quaker City show ended at 10:30 p.m. that Friday in 2002 and the Flashlight Drags started right after. To the management's surprise, the action lasted until 4 a.m. At 3 a.m., when they were asked to shut the gates, people were still coming in. "We require mufflers, but neighbors complained anyway," said 36-year-old Chisholm. "Now we start much earlier and everyone is happy."
The promoters struggled to come up with a name to give the event. Chisholm suggested "flashlight drags" since they had planed to use a flashlight to start the cars (the Christmas Tree and staging lights are unplugged), and the name stuck. People didn't know what to think at first, but they started to get it, and now it has become somewhat of a phenomenon. The event attracts more than 3,000 spectators and 250-plus cars. A spectator one year often becomes a participant the next.
Here's how it works. After climbing up the hill to Quaker City's bleach box and performing your burnout, you slowly approach the line until you make eye contact with the darling Crystal Spreng. "She's not a stripper--that is her real name," Chisholm explains. "She's actually my niece." Crystal stewards the event with her one-million candlepower spotlight (it's what they use to spot deer with). She gets each driver's attention with a point to each cockpit. Then, once both are prepped, their headlights come on, both drivers see Crystal's flick of the switch, and hopefully the cars are off!
"Believe it or not, there's not a lot of guys jumping the line," Chisholm says. "In fact, we have a lot of sleepers. The typical nerves of a first-time drag racer can upset the "show," but most racers have it down. A few sport compact kids show up, too, and predictably, they're the ones who often stop on the track in the shut down area not knowing where to turn off."
So, who is actually judging these races? Two guys line up at both sides of the finish line and face each other, with eyes meeting like a set of human timing lights. If the left lane wins, that judge flashes his lamp back to the starting line, which is then met with crowd's roar of approval. "We've had some close ones," Chisholm admits, "leaving those two wondering, pausing, and causing problems for the fans." Dan tells them to make a quick decision and stick to it. After a quick yell back and forth, they show another light from the end in either lane directing the winner. You don't need radios to run this event.
Though it's a little bright in our photos (hey, we were there early and it rained later...), the promoters dim the actual track lights during the event. There's a little light left over in the shut-down area to help point your way off the track, but that's it.
At Quaker City's Flashlight Drags, there are no time slips. But, there are pink slips. "We make a fake pink slip for them--it looks surprisingly good--and give them four or five to start the night. If you've lost all of your slips, you're done racing for the night. It works out great as the winners end up with something of a trophy, Chisholm said.
Others have run drag racing activities around the PPG Nationals in Columbus and the Pacific Northwest Nationals near Seattle, but they just don't seem to have the "run whatcha brung" hot rodding flare required here. Chisholm and friends have heard nothing from the Hot-Rod Super Nationals promoters and that's fine by them. It goes better that way. To us, it's actually a blessing. When was the last time you had fun at an outlaw event that's held "in conjunction" with a real one?