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Need for speed: Hundreds turn out for races at Jamestown Regional Airport

Posted on 7/30/2012

Kevin Thoele of Jamestown fills his car with gas Sunday at the Jamestown Drag Racing Association's drag racing event. The annual competition takes place at the Jamestown Regional Airport. (Kari Lucin / The Sun)
By: Kari Lucin

"The Jamestown Sun"

Speed, consistency and great reflexes - qualities prized in drag racing - were all on display at the annual drag races Saturday and Sunday at Jamestown Regional Airport.

Hundreds of drivers and spectators turned out over the weekend for the Jamestown Drag Racing Association event.

"I just like having family together. It's a great family event," said Connie Isaak of Bismarck. "We've made some really great friends over the years."

For the Isaaks, drag racing is very much a family activity.

Connie's husband, Jim, has a car made for racing in the Pro E.T. Class, but it broke down Saturday, and the family's other racing car also had some technical problems.

Instead, Connie brought the family's street car, a 1980 Corvette, to race in the Trophy Class.

Any kind of car can race in the Trophy Class, from trucks to antiques and classics, and that means that anyone can race without having to buy an expensive car made for high speeds. The Trophy Class is popular with new drivers.

"In the beginning years, we would drive our car to the track, change the tires, race it, change the tires and drive it back," Connie recalled.

Connie and Jim's sons, Aaron and Chris, went along for the weekend. So did Marshall Becker, of Beulah, Connie and Jim's nephew - who was also racing.

Jamestown's drag racing features six different classes, from the Quick 16, which runs the one-eighth mile stretch in five or six seconds, to the Trophy Class, which clocks in at 11 seconds and slower. Then there's a Motorcycle/Snowmobile/ATV class and even a class for children - the Jr. Dragsters.

What makes drag racing special to many of the drivers, though, is the people.

"There's so many nice people, so many awesome people you meet at the race track. It's definitely friendly competition," Jim said.

At Jamestown's drag races, mornings are devoted to time trials. Each car runs the one-eighth mile track three times, and the driver uses an average of those three times to determine the fastest he or she can go during competition.

At the start line during a competition, cars with a slower rating are given a head start, such that both vehicles ought to reach the finish line at the same time.

That means good drivers with comparatively slow cars can still win, provided they have good reflexes and drive consistently.

"The better the reaction time, the better chance they have at winning," said Leon Westerhausen, president of the JDRA.

Anyone who exceeds the speed set during the time trial is disqualified, ensuring that no drivers game the system. Anyone who starts prematurely is also disqualified from competition.

"The fastest car doesn't always win. The consistent car always wins," said driver Bob Baumann of Jamestown.

Jamestown's drag races are a little different from others. They are an eighth of a mile long rather than a quarter of a mile, and the event is at an airport rather than a track made specifically for drag racing.

"This is the only airport show left," said volunteer Daine Flieth of Jamestown, who helps out at the event every year.

Jim called the event "well-run," and praised it for reasonable entry prices and for being an "all-around good event."

More than 130 cars raced on Saturday alone, with more than 700 spectators that day who came from all over the region.

The drag races also feature some local drivers, such as Kevin Thoele, who has been racing for 28 years.

"The thrill of going fast, the excitement of burning the tires" are what keeps him racing, he said on Sunday.

According to Thoele, "cutting a good light" - starting instantly when the signal to go turns green - is key, along with consistency.

And drag racing isn't like racing on a circular track, either.

Because of the time trial-based handicap system, "you can do your own thing to your own vehicle. In circle track (racing), every car's got to be the same," with the same capabilities, Thoele said, adding that some classes in drag racing do have some restrictions.

Thoele was racing a 1,700-pound car Saturday that hit 119 mph in the Quick 16 Class.

"There's about five or six guys going faster yet," he said.

At those speeds, drivers need more safety gear, including a cage, safety harness, a five-layer suit and a helmet, plus ear protection for the noise and a parachute to help with stopping at the end of the race.

Meagen Neil, 11, of West Fargo, uses some of the same safety equipment when she drives her Jr. Dragster.

On Saturday, she won first place with just one full year of racing under her belt.

"It's a lot of fun," Neil said.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at klucin@jamestownsun.com