Trick or Treat Shootout at

Wapato, Washington

A Story of Grit


Words and photos by Brian Losness

Noted researcher Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, PhD, defined the term Grit as “The power of passion and perseverance.” The good doctor is a noted academic and psychologist who speaks around the world on “Grit”. Her TED Talks videos have nearly sixty million views. She has studied at Harvard and Oxford, which even to a lay person indicated that she is pretty smart.


Now not to downplay the accomplishments of the good doctor, when I think of grit I look at Derek Snelson, who is the proprietor of Renegade Raceway in Wapato, Washington, just outside of Yakima.


Snelson has a love and appreciation for the sport of drag racing that is unparalleled. He is a walking bundle of energy, that sometimes runs over a bit, but nevertheless is meant to be positive and moving forward.


When Snelson took over the management of the facility some years ago it was, let us say, rough.

If it needs doing, Derek Snelson will do it.


However, it was the challenge that Snelson took head on. It wasn’t gonna happen overnight and he knew that, but what he lacked in capital and other resources the made up for in grit. More than that he worked, physical labor, marketing, announcing, cleaning rest rooms, cooking food, mopping the starting line, whatever it took, Snelson was going to do it. He also recruited a small and very devoted team including Sara Cullan who also shared in his vision to make the track a better place.


Hard work is something that is not foreign to people in the Yakima area. This is a true blue-collar city. Agriculture is the main business, and those who have worked a farm or ranch know it is hard, labor intensive, honest work.


To supplement his capital, he would squeeze into his already busy agenda and run his own jet funny car at other events, to help bring in needed resources. This was put in jeopardy a couple years ago on the way home from an event when a highway crash not of his own doing totaled his tow vehicle and damaged the trailer and the racecar.


Once again grit took over, and others who had taken notice of Snelson’s grit and determination to make a go of it at Renegade helped him get back on the road with a replacement tow vehicle and repairs to the trailer and racecar.


This past year the fruits of Snelson’s labor began to come in. The racing surface was upgraded and the concrete was extended along with hydroseeding of new grass in areas. This is a major improvement from the notorious “goat head” weeds that are found in this area of the country. The pits were full of these noxious weeds that played havoc with race tires and made it difficult just being able to walk around. Snelson and his team removed all these plants and have them under control where there is no longer an issue in the pits or the facility.

The crowds can get rough sometimes at Renegade ... especially for Halloween.


The reason for the background story is to tell this story of the Trick or Treat Shootout. This is the sixth year for this event, and it has gotten better and better with each year. The headliner class for the event was the Super Quick class, along with Super Pro, Pro and Sportsman and, of course, Junior Dragsters.


Forty-nine, that’s right 49 Super Quick cars showed up for the event. The reason for this number of cars can be attributed to the updates to the facility and the fact that there would be another event in Idaho, the following week. A nice bit of marketing and preparation on the behalf of the Renegade team.

The Super Quick class was loaded for bear with NHRA World Champion Paul Nero (above), ultra-tough Division 6 runners Justin Cooper, Dan Lafferty and Tom Malicki, just to name a few. So, whoever was going to win either day of this two-day event was going to be in for some tough sledding.


The other wrinkle to this was the event was completely eighth mile. This seems to be the trend for many of the bigger bracket events. Spring Fling and the Fall Fling are eighth mile. Quicker turn-around and less wear on parts seem to be the big upside.

Boise, Idaho’s Sean Shaffer, who tours the country bracket racing, brought his Super Quick Dragster and his Super Pro Chevelle to Renegade, taking the win in Super Pro on Sunday. He likes the shorter distance, saying, “Past eighth mile all we are doing is making noise… It is just easier on parts and the car to run eighth.”

However, the winners in Super Quick on Saturday and Sunday came from the middle of the pack so to say. Saturday’s winner Clinton Gerse was wired in, both on the tree and behind the wheel. His worst light was .018 (in the finals) and 4.60 the rest of the field to death. In six rounds of racing he was 4.60 four times. The other two rounds he was 4.57 on a 57 and 4.58 on a 58. (Slacker). This would be considered an ass whopping.

On Sunday it was Redmond, Oregon’s Keith Benson who was in the zone. The black-over-green dragster, which got many comments from Hall of Fame announcer Stevie Wong, was the most consistent running car on this day. A series of 5.05 ET’s got him to the win and the Wally for his efforts.


About sixty-two Super Pro cars made the trip to Yakima. Since this event was in fact a Halloween race it was only appropriate that orange cars would win in Super Pro.

Chuck Linne (shown), Port Orchard, Wash., took the win on Saturday. And the aforementioned, Sean Shaffer took the win in his retina burning orange Chevelle on Sunday.


Nearly seventy Pro cars came out to the Shootout.

On Sunday Vancouver’s Jeff Staley in his beautiful El Camino took the win.


The bike/sled winners were Karen Halloway and Steve Stormo on Saturday and Sunday respectively.


Forty-four Junior dragsters showed up to play at the Shootout. Winners included Raylee Higgins, Dylanie Petersohn, Jiovanni Collecchi, and Ty Gaynor.


The Sportsman winners were Art Kirby, and Walt Pearce on Saturday.

A side note to Mr. Pearce’s victory. Walt has been racing for 62 years. He is 85 and admits that reaction times are not what they were, but “I am still very consistent.” Pearce proudly states that he has competed at 62 different tracks across the nation and looks to race at more this winter. “I lost my wife some time back and this thing [pointing to the ‘32 Ford] keeps me going. Keeps my mind sharp and keeps it young. So, I’ll head out in a few weeks and find some more new tracks to race at.”


Mr. Pearce, we here at DRO wish you fair winds and following seas, and many more win lights in your future.


At the beginning of this report I spoke of Grit. That is what this report is about: grit, of the racers, parents, loved ones and those who operate Renegade Raceway.


We spoke with a great number of racers, some of whom had not been to the track in nearly 20 years. One stated, “This place was a sh*^hole and I vowed never to come back; goat heads cost me a set of tires. But someone convinced me to come back and give it a try. I’m glad I did!”


This event drew the largest number of cars in the history of Renegade. There were many smiles and lots of fun being had, along with some damn good racing. Derek Snelson, your Grit is paying off! 


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