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A Ray of Hope

Horsepowered In the Hinterlands


Jeff Burk Photo

ad 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 I have.

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 of personality.

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, Arkansas.

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.


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