Racing: A Profile

I. J. Samson Junior High
St. John's, Newfoundland

By Jillian N. (Grade 9)

What's it like to drag race? Paul Nicol, a 40 year old St. John's resident will tell you. Paul Nicol owns a rear-end dragster that he has raced for the past three years at the Argentia raceway. Every year around March he starts to service the car for the races in the coming July. Every second weekend of the summer until October, about 60 racers can be found towing their cars to Argentia for testing on Saturdays, and racing on Sundays. During this time, all of Paul's energy is focused on the races and on his car.

Paul puts the whole car together himself, and does a pretty good job of it. The top speed of the car is 160 mph or 267 kph and is almost 22 feet in length. The car covers the 1/4 mile straight drag strip in 8 seconds. You'd think this might be hard on the tires, but the 18" by 33" tires hold out pretty well. They are replaced once a year. Lots of tires go down that dragstrip, from jeeps to motorcycles. Basically, anyone who owns a car (or some other vehicle) can race. Just because you don't have a fast car doesn't mean you can't win. The slower car gets a head start. If one car can cover the 1/4 mile track in 10 seconds, and the other can in 15, then the slower car gets a head start. But if the slow car makes the run in 14 seconds and not 15, it is called a break out, and that car is disqualified. You can also be disqualified if you leave the starting line before the light turns green. The race is started by a thing that's like a street light. It has 5 lights, which are yellow, yellow, yellow, green, then red. The first yellow light goes off, then the second yellow, and when the third goes off you begin to leave. You should be just leaving the starting line when the green light goes off. This whole process takes about one hundreth of a second.

It's not all racing out there though. Some people consider it a place to go to bond, relax, and to have lots of fun. During the day, around 280 spectators are there to watch the races. In the evening, it's mostly just the racers and their family at the track. A giant circus tent is set up where B-B-Qing is done, and drinks are had until late in the night. Parents can leave their kids in the trailers while they are a few steps away at the tent. For most, it is a family activity. You can see people from infancy to elderly out there watching the cars speed down the track.

The fuel is costly. It costs $11-12 per gallon, and Paul goes through 68 gallons each season. The car uses up 1 gallon every run and is ordered in from Ontario. That's how he gets the parts he needs too, by ordering them in, but the car parts come from all over North America. Out of all the parts, the transmission breaks the most, about twice a season. They originally come from Ontario, but Paul rebuilds them when it needs to be done.

What does it feel like to speed down the track? People come from all over Newfoundland to get that feeling. Paul explains that as you go down the track, 2 1/2 times your body weight is thrown against you. When you reach the end of the track, you are covering 235 ft per second. When you release the parachute 3 or 4 times your body weight is thrown against you again, but in the other direction, and you are pressed into the harness for a few seconds until the car slows down.

I asked Nicol how all this felt, and if he likes drag racing. "It's an awful lot of fun. It's almost addictive." And he is addicted. This year the races will be held in Clarenville, where the weather will be a bit warmer and there will be more spectators.

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