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On the performance trail at Columbus


Jeff Burk Photo

remember the moments as crisply and to the point as if someone dropped an alive and royally ticked king cobra in my lap.

NHRA Editorial Meeting: January of any year between 1975 and 1998. The Editor (from inside the executive conference room): "Okay, okay, if everybody will hold it down -- Martin, make sure you clean up the vomit under the table when the suits show up -- we'll get to scheduling who goes to what races this year."

I had seniority in nearly all of those meetings. Snot-nosed, spoiled-rotten little Chrissie would be going to the Texas Motorplex and ride with his outlaw amigos, building electro-zap/"Bride of Frankenstein" Jacob's Ladders with some Amish family near Maple Grove, and dropping acid with the Gotti's at the hunt club in Little Italy. That was the good part.

They were the races everyone on the staff wanted to attend, but then the subject got a little more testy when we got to the races where staff enthusiasm fell off like Enron stock in those bloody final days.

At the end of the meeting (and with the exception of maybe Denver -- high altitude, no great elapsed times and speeds) the subject of Columbus would come up. Columbus, Ohio or more particularly Kirkersville, Ohio right outside of Reynoldsburg, which as city billboards beaconed, "Home of the Tomato."

(Editorial aide: "Home of the tomato???!!! You mean these guys predate the Italians and the French. As the late Tony Salvaterrra put it, "No &*^%$ way!")

Anyway, when no brave hands raised to signify, "I'll go, dammit," the editor had to assign the race. A few times it was assigned to me. And my response was always the same.

"Alright gang, you don't have to put a gun to my head, to go to the drags. I'll do it for this YEAR solamente." Then my forehead would wrinkle like seeing a newborn in the incubator room with a "property of the Hell1s Angels1" tattooed on its pink velvet butt.

National Trail Raceway NEVER, at least from the view in Toluca Lake or Glendora, California, was where it was at it, if you lived and breathed the numbers. The track was built in 1965 and, no question about it, had a ton of history to it.

Shirley Muldowney made her first NHRA final there in 1975 when she runner-upped in Top Fuel to Marvin Graham. The next year she beat the late Bob Edwards to win her first NHRA race. In 1977 Clive Skilton became the first non-continental U.S. nitro finalist when he runner-upped to Muldowney. Oh, the place had its history -- but in slow motion.

If you consult the NHRA Media Guide and look under "History of NHRA National Performance Records," NOWHERE will you find a record set under the heading of "Columbus, Ohio" and we're talking nearly 100 entries.

If you further explore the guide and get to items like NHRA/Cragar 5-Second Club or the NHRA 250-MPH Club, you will find only one Columbus-based mark and that would be Gary Ormsby's 4.99 for entry in the Cragar 4-Second Club on June 10, 1989. And for Top Fuel, that's it.

For the most part, it's the same for Funny Car. Bruce Larson's 5.25 NHRA e.t. record set at the 1989 Springnationals is the only mark for the class set at the slowest little track in the world.


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