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By Chris Martin
Photos by Jeff Burk and Jeff Leonard

Don Garlits showed no rust despite having raced only three times this year. He managed to whip Chris "The Greek" Karamesines in two straight at the Cordova World Series of Drag Racing. (Jeff Burk photo)

Plenty of maps don't have Cordova, Illinois, on them. The 166-year-old town on the east bank of the Mississippi River is one of a number of little country bergs in an area known to locals as "the bluffs." The bluffs are where the land rises above the rolling glassy river, and are dotted with classic wood cabins, early 20th century two-story, screen door palaces, and nouveau riche, manicured brick modernities running along the east side of the two-lane rural Route 84. They face the river and Bettendorf, Iowa, which beams back with riverboat casinos and sun-bleached waterfront businesses looking like a VerMeer seascape. However, with just 250 people living in old Cordova, it is no more than a speck in a Hammond atlas, although it's definitely on all drag racing grids.

If you go past porch-swing Cordova, the land flattens into trees and farms and in just a mile or two you are greeted by Cordova Dragway Park. It has an older-styled facade and ambiance, staging lanes along the highway, a neat two-story timing tower, colorful banners bouncing in the breeze, and twelve- to twenty-level bleachers stringing both sides of the track. With all the lawn and stands of trees around it, Cordova has the look of a carnival at race time.

Some 10,000 fans filled the Cordova countryside for the World Series of Drag Racing. (Jeff Burk photo)

For drag racing, the track's venerable World Series of Drag Racing event, this year 49 years old (the first three events were held in Lawrenceville, Ill.), is the sport's oldest independent drag race. Yesterday, and by 'yesterday' I mean pre-1959 Bakersfield, the World Series just might've been the biggest race in the country, certainly that applies to anything east of the Mississippi. Today, it's a carnival, but not your average St. Aloysius Pancake Breakfast feed. This is the kind of carnival that hooked a lot of us on drag racing, especially the over 40s before the corporate blanket gently settled atop us all.

What did this race have to offer in 2002 just a week before NHRA's U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis? On Friday evening of the three-day event the pro end, always reserved for the final three hours of each day, got started and later ended by two pairs that symbolized the race.


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