Thank You, Derek Snelson, for Being Nostalgic

Nostalgia (noun): A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Something done or presented in order to evoke feelings of nostalgia.

This is Webster’s definition of the term. And it is exactly what I think of when I think of nostalgia drag racing.

I have had the pleasure of writing this column for the past almost six years and this column has given me the opportunity to travel to different tracks that play host to nostalgia drag racing.

While every track has its special nuances, character and history behind, there is one place that I feel truly is the throwback to the way drag racing was in its infancy. That place is Renegade Raceway in Yakima, Washington.

There is no seven figure tower or high dollar sound systems or even that many permanent grandstands. There are a couple of sets of bleachers on both sides of the track at the starting line that might hold a hundred fifty or so people.

What this place does have is personality. And lots of it. The staff are not decked out in matching uniforms, which is alright because it somehow adds to the personality and the charm of this place. But the staff work hard and have bought into the general manager’s mission plan.

The general manager of the track is Derek Snelson. Derek is a racer who still travels around the Pacific Northwest with his Jet Funny Car called the “War Hawk.” Snelson has had experience behind the wheel of fuel cars as well, so he understands the racer mentality from not only the business side, but also from the cockpit.

Snelson is high energy -- very high energy -- which is who he is, but he also sees himself as a member of the team and not just the leader of it. You can find him pulling weeds, prepping the water box, taking out the trash, doing some announcing, and being a showman in his jet funny car.

When Snelson took over the track, it was in extreme disrepair. He had a plan of action. The first thing was to clean the place up. Which entails a very labor-intensive operation due to the fact the area is infested with an invasive species of weed called Tibullus terrestris. To the locals the plant known as Goat Heads is a pain to deal with. A byproduct of this plant is small very thorny spears that can tear up a person’s skin and do a real job on racecar tires.

“The biggest problem I had was getting rid of the goat heads,” Snelson said. It was almost like going to war. Snelson would get a foothold and then the weeds would come back in force, so he was forced to escalate his offensive, but after a few years Snelson’s energy and obsession prevailed and for the most part the race track and pit area the goat heads have been eradicated.

Then he turned his attention to the racing surface. Over the past couple of years there have been improvements to the surface; the most recent as been the extension of the concrete pad.

The efforts that Snelson has put forth on the track have not gone unnoticed as the track was recently voted the most improved track in NHRA Division 6.

The one thing that cannot be missed is that the facility is small town and has a great feel to it. The most unique and nostalgic thing about Renegade Raceway is the drive-in movie style seating they employ there. As you remember, I said there is only enough bleachers to sit about 100 to 150 people. Everybody else?