By John Bombatch
XENIA — There wasn’t a driver’s suit among the bunch, and the smell of burnt tire rubber couldn’t be found, but close to 40 or so area drag racing enthusiasts had a good time any way at Saturday’s inaugural Preseason Warmup Practice Tree Race, an event which was hosted by Kil-Kare Dragway at the H.O.G. clubhouse on Cincinnati Ave.
“There’s been several of these practice tree events that have gone on through the years,” Kil-Kare Competition Director Will Tharpe said. “We’re not trying to duplicate those events, but we’re trying to give drag racing enthusiasts another opportunity besides the original race that started years ago.
“We’re definitely not trying to duplicate those races or imitate them, but we’re going to have some fun in trying out our own version of it.”
Tharpe said one of the larger traditional off-season events is held annually by Ed Beyers, of Beavercreek.
Kil-Kare’s drag racing season doesn’t get started until April 9 when the Spring Street Car Nationals take place at the track, but the drivers can often be found practicing their reaction times with portable starting trees in the comfy confines of their homes over the winter months. Most of the reputable auto parts catalogs sell portable starting trees for such use. Fans can even download a starting tree app on their phones.
And so while their high-powered machines remained tucked away in the area garages, drivers and fans alike came out to earn bragging rights for having the quickest trigger finger in the area.
One competition, known as Top Bulb, enabled drivers to use the same reaction times as those they experience in an actual event. Drag racing drivers often set off mechanical timing boxes which assist in launching their machines off the starting line. This category enabled competitors to input their typical timing telemetry as they would in an actual race. Drivers would set that telemetry in motion once the very top amber bulb would go off on the starting tree, and the practice tree would determine who won based on how quick they were to react.
In the other Bottom Bulb category, competitors would press their starting buttons as the bottom-most amber bulb of the tree would light up.
Although the competitors all appeared to be enjoying the evening, this wasn’t just a friendly night of playing video games. Plenty of prize money was at stake. They were all vying for the $1,000 in prize money that went to the Top Bulb winner, and for the $300 prize that went to the Bottom Bulb champ.
“It’s a great way to bring the racing community together before the season starts, and it’s a fun social gathering for us to enjoy at the same time,” said Tim Thatcher, a drag racing competitor who lives in Xenia. Thatcher was instrumental in putting Saturday’s event together. “It’s also an opportunity for drag racing fans who don’t actually race to maybe come in and try this and get a little taste of what it’s like.”
The “drivers” were allowed to pay to re-enter the competition if they lost in the first round, much as they are often enabled to do at actual drag racing events. For that reason, and because there were close to 50 competitors on hand, the racing went well into the evening and champions had yet to be crowned late Saturday night.Another competition of sorts was going on at the H.O.G. clubhouse’s concession area. Kil-Kare concessionaires were selling pizza from three area pizza shops, with customers providing feedback as to which pizza place should be selling their product at the track on race days.