Thursday, May 14, 2009

Life of a dragster

The Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter will feature a local drag racer in this Sunday's newspaper on page B1 and the O-R's Web site. The story follows driver Kevin Romeo, a student at Cal U, and car owner Bob Jones of Eighty Four. Photographer Jim McNutt and I spent a day last month at Pittsburgh Raceway Park along Route 22 near New Alexandria, Pa., and got a taste of the sport. Here's a preview of my story...

NEW ALEXANDRIA, Pa. - When it’s time to race, Kevin Romeo lowers himself into the tight cockpit and buckles up. His fiancĂ©e, Justine Illar hands him his helmet and he squeezes it over his head, pulls on the gloves and fist bumps another driver.

The car will reach nearly 180 miles per hour at the end of the track, but that’s not what stirs Romeo.

“I get more of a rush out of the competition than the speed,” he said. “I’m more nervous because I want to win.”

Romeo pulls the dragster up to the starting line and floors the gas for a burnout to warm the tires. The driver and car owner communicate through a two-way radio to properly line up the car.

When the Christmas tree – the yellow, green and red light fixture that acts like a traffic light – begins to flash, Romeo reacts and an onboard computer automatically launches the car when the light turns green.

Then it’s time for the ride.

“I let go of the bottom (lever) and then the car is in control,” Romeo said. “I just hold the accelerator and the wheel and guide it down the track.”

The run is over in 7.46 seconds with a top speed of 179.82 mph. The time is a fraction slower than expected, but this was just a practice session before the real racing begins later in the day.
Romeo pulls his car back to the trailer and team owner Bob Jones begins refueling the car with Octane 116 racing gasoline before connecting the computer circuits to download information.

Romeo, Jones and Illar are back at the computers and poring over the streaming numbers. A few moments later, they’re already discussing how to make the car go even faster next time.

No comments: