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Drag racers share a love of speed
For Neil Ericson, it’s all about speed and adrenalin.
Ericson, who owns OK Tire in Osoyoos, also owns one of the fastest cars that took part in Sunday’s drag races at the Osoyoos airport – a suped-up 1969 Camaro.
“I like speed,” says Ericson, who is just one of the drivers from Osoyoos and elsewhere in the Okanagan participating in the Wine Country Racing Association (WCRA) drag races.
“I’m not that serious about racing, but I like to just come out and have fun and enjoy it. It’s not all about winning. It’s more about having fun.”
For participants and fans that turned out Sunday, despite cooler temperatures, the event also seemed to be more about fun.
There were cars, trucks, motorcycles and even converted snowmobiles of all makes, models and vintages, many rebuilt to achieve phenomenal speeds.
Ericson’s Camaro features a 565 engine that has maxed out at 968 horsepower on a dynometer machine.
“There’s nothing left in that motor that’s actually made by Chevrolet,” says Ericson. “Every piece of the motor is after market, including the block.”
Ericson has been engaged in a friendly rivalry with Warren Brown of Oliver, who rides a 1200 cc Kawasaki ZX12 motorcycle, probably the fastest vehicle competing at WCRA’s races.
A grudge match Sunday between the two ended in the narrowest of wins by Brown – by two one-hundredths of a second.
“I’ll get him on Thanksgiving,” says Ericson, who blamed the narrow loss on headwinds, which slow a car much more than they do a motorcycle.
The season’s last races take place Oct. 13.
Brown now holds a three-to-one lead in their informal matches this year.
While Ericson and Brown compete on actual speed, this isn’t how it works for most of the vehicles participating.
Others do “bracket racing,” which is designed to level the playing field between different vehicles and put more emphasis on the driver and his or her reaction times.
Drivers estimate the speed they will run based on several trial runs to establish a “dial-in.”
As determined by the dial-in, a slower vehicle gets a head start. Drivers are penalized and may lose if they beat their dial-in time.
Advancing to the track on the airport runway in twos, drivers spin their rear wheels in water before each race, kicking up clouds of smoke smelling of burned rubber.
This “burnout” heats and cleans the wheels, giving them better traction.
The track is short – just an eighth of a mile – and each race is over in seconds. One race follows the other, as vintage cars race against newer ones, some beautifully restored and painted, others looking like they were recently salvaged from a wrecker.
Ericson sees the races as a family event, noting his son and daughter race. His son was participating Sunday.
“I’ve got most of my family involved now,” he says.
“I like the small town track like this because it gives the teenagers a chance to come here and try the cars, race on a track professionally and not be doing it on the street.”
As a teenager, Ericson admits he drag raced illegally on public roads, but he points out that the consequences of doing this today are much more severe.
He’s now been involved about seven years with the WCRA, whose success he attributes to the hard work of a dedicated team of many volunteers.
The races also draw many who simply come to watch. What draws fans to the sport?
“Speed,” says Ericson. “They like the speed. They like the sound. They like the fast cars and the variety of cars.”
And it’s the speed and adrenalin rush that keeps bringing Ericson back to the races.
“My first race I’m shaking and sweating every time,” says Ericson. “You’re on the verge of being scared, but still it’s the head rush.”