The Drag Strip Is Made for Burning Rubber and Inspiring Young Enthusiasts
Friendships and families are strengthened here.
Every other day, there’s an old fogie auto journalist, or economist, or some cultural overseer who declares, “Young people just don’t like cars.” They wring their hands over the newfangled technology that they claim isn’t friendly to modifications, and they bemoan new regulations on cars that they feel stifle the culture of racing. Some of those concerns aren’t wrong, but there are enclaves and pockets of folks out there still modifying and racing their cars. Certain families engender a real love of motorsport, and cars, and tinkering. That love, I’d argue, is born not at an autocross event, but at the drag strip.
On my mom’s side of the family, you’ll find two gearheads: my uncle Patrick and my uncle Kevin (who, yes, is the person I’m named after). Those two have been drag racing and souping up cars since the ’70s, at least. My uncle Patrick, a veteran and retired bus mechanic, spent a lot of his time at the track. By the time I came around, he was retired, spending his days tinkering and building big block Chevys with his younger brother. Their kids, my cousins, wrenched too, and when my uncles went to the drag strip, they brought their children with them.
That was a long time ago. Things have moved on, and we’ve all grown up. I came out of the closet and fell out of contact for a while as I put my life back on track. Still, my uncles never stopped working with cars and cherishing the familial bonds they created at the drag strip. In a recent visit with my aunt, I showed off my Abarth and excitedly told her about the adventures I had in my derelict Daewoo. She smiled, relating all those times from when I was a small toddler, could hardly talk, but could read and tell everyone the names of every car that rolled past the track. We caught up, and she shot out an idea. “Sweetie, why don’t you come and hang out with us at the track?” she said, as we sipped coffee at a Big Boy somewhere on the West Side of Cleveland.
My aunt Shirley and uncle Patrick don’t just roll up for a few runs down the drag strip, they often stay a few weeks. Their track, in Norwalk, Ohio, is a relatively short drive from their Cleveland home. They bring their motorhome, dogs, food, and tow their race car. Last year’s car was my grandmother’s old 1982 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon that Patrick and his family had modified to turn 11-second quarter-mile times. This year’s car is a custom GMC Sonoma, with a 598 cubic-inch cammed-out engine under the hood.
The truck was quick, but that wasn’t super relevant in a bracket race, where the driver with the most consistent timing is rewarded over the driver that is outright faster.
At this point, you’re starting to see just how much of this family revolves around cars and drag racing in particular. My aunt and uncle, now in their 60s and 70s, have a deep bench of gearheads in the family, ready to tinker and help. While they’re camping trackside, family and friends get invited to drop in and say hello, have a beer, and eat some barbecue in between runs. Cousins and grandkids tool around on golf carts and dirtbikes, hold flashlights, and help tool around on the racecar.
But the coolest part of this story is that my family’s not the only family like this. When I stopped by the track, I saw that the whole paddock and motorhome parking lot was full of families doing the same thing. Kids tinkering, learning about cars, running around, and having fun. The track was even decked out with Halloween decorations on golf carts and concession stands, and most of the trackside workers were in costumes.
For the kiddies, the track had a costume contest, complete with cash prizes. In the paddock, someone turned a trailer into a haunted house. An hour before dragsters were to run, the whole track took a break, as kids trick-or-treated from trailer to trailer. It was like being in a wholesome neighborhood, with a Main Street closed off for drag racing.
It’s a good experience for kids, too. They’re involved, they’re part of a community, and they’re learning, all things that breathe the life of car enthusiasm into them. They’ll associate fast cars and tinkering with good times and with people who are friendly and love them. They’ll see the years of hard work and heart and soul that goes into the family racecars, and hopefully, they’ll want to carry that energy on.
Kids are absolutely still interested in cars, and I won’t hear otherwise. They just need the chance to see how much fun these machines can be — or they’re already getting into it, just learning and growing in spaces most people aren’t paying attention to. Like the local drag strip, for example. Do your family a favor and get your rear to the drag strip if you want your kid to love cars. You might have more fun than you expect yourself.
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