A Ray of Hope
Horsepowered In the Hinterlands
Jeff Burk Photo
too much corporate drag racing these last few years? You know,
clean, polished, every-hair-in-place homogenization of a sport
originally aimed at the nuts, and now evenly dividing its
time between business etiquette, political correctness, and
yes, occasionally still singing the body eclectic. I know
A 330-mph Top Fueler or Funny Car still jolts the nervous
system. But man, today, it’s like getting a Rolex wrapped
in a 200-page Lane Bryant catalogue. You gotta go through
so much crap to get at the good stuff. The race tracks hosting
NHRA’s national events, almost all look alike, and IHRA’s
are only slightly more varied. Profitable? Probably. Souless?
Definitely. The tracks are like the races. Nearly all void
Wanna tough, tough trivia question? About John Force, name
all of his wins of the previous year, NOT by town, but by
event sponsor, the most dominant entity in any national event
schedule. See what I mean? Let’s see he won two O’Reillys,
1 Summit, three Mac Tools ….. bleecchh!
I think the above, trigger, for a lot of over-40 fans, the
nostalgia twinge. That nostalgia urge can take a number of
forms. It can be a simple desire to see the “new-stalgia”
(as Lance Larsen put it) front-motor dragsters and 1970s Funny
Cars not glutted with all the blatant corporate smooching,
drooling at Miss English Leather contests, or in my case,
Jeff Burk’s and definitely Bret Kepner’s actually
attending a drag race at a dragstrip. Not a Motorplex, not
an International Raceway Park, or a Motorsports Park, but
a driveway-wide, weedy, woody, tree-trunked rock n’
roll dragstrip … the cradle of our sport, it’s
original backdrop. Horsepower in the hinterlands.
This past August 7-8, I got my fix in that regard. The three
of us made a stop at two unsanctioned, so-called “outlaw”
dragstrips, Saturday night at Sikeston Drag Strip in Sikeston,
Mo., and the capper for the whole show, Sunday afternoon at
George Ray’s Wildcat Hot Rod Dragstrip in Paragould,
Kepner was the tour guide on this sojourn. Over the years
he has visited 209 (I think) different race tracks, and has
the most encyclopedic knowledge of dragstrips in the country.
Over the years, especially, when I worked at DRAGSTER, we’d
have our bi-monthly hour phone calls, and he would consistently
tout me along the lines of … “Martin, when the
NHRA tour’s done, you gotta come out here (St. Louis)
and I’ll show you drag strips you absolutely will not
f*ckin’ believe.” His descriptions were enticing
because as recent as the late 1980s, I was growing tired of
all the predictable modernity. I was really up for crooked,
scrawny tracks with redwood logs for seating, that prospect
did pique my interest, but I was always too worn from the
rigors of the DRAGSTER schedule … until now.
Some of you may recall DRO’s coverage of George Ray’s
wild emporium a year or so back, well, that along with a video
Kepner had shot of the joint had whetted my appetite for a
visit. Visually only the Lassiter Mountain, Sylacauga, and
Lynn, Alabama tracks approached the appeal that Ray’s
Wildcat track had for me. Unbelievably bucolic, edge of control,
sweet danger in less than a 1,000 feet.
Sikeston, the first stop on our trip, was a little different.
It was located in extreme southeastern Missouri at the Miner/Sikeston
ramp of the I-55, and had quite a reputation. Built in 1965,
Kepner, who hadn’t been there in awhile, related that
the track was about 28 to 32-feet wide, maybe a 1,000 feet
long, and no return roads. After every run, the two cars would
turn around and drive back up the strip and into the pits.
The starting clocks were possibly one-of-a-kind; a giant clock
hanging from a sagging wire just in front of the line. The
second hand made a full sweep of the face, from 1 second to
the “go” 60 seconds later at 12 o’clock
high and off they’d go.