Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pull over, Mario! Drag Racing Hits the 'Burbs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pull over, Mario! Drag Racing Hits the 'Burbs

Article excerpt

Deep in the cornfields, on a starlit countryside night, a lanky auto mechanic named Bill Mueller has come to satisfy his weekly need for speed.

It's "Street Night" at the Route 66 Raceway, and two quarter-mile drag-racing lanes are open to normal street vehicles - everything from sedans to station wagons. Anyone and everyone, from mechanics to ad execs, can pay $30 to race their cars or trucks or motorcycles, just like the professionals on TV with their slicks and carburetor stacks the size of condominiums.

In decades past, these speedsters plied two-lane country roads or long stretches of late-night city streets.

But drag racing has now gone legal for average drivers with visions of Mario Andretti in their heads and curiosity about the cubic inches under the hood. And in this era of economic plenty - as automakers have replaced fuel efficiency with engine gusto - it's taking off in the nation's heartland.

"America is enjoying a return to celebrating the automobile," says Ken Kohrs, the affable Route 66 Raceway administrator.

From 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. every weather-permitting Wednesday for the past year, Route 66 has opened its track to amateurs and their Corvettes, Firebirds, Chevelles, Hondas, or Kawasakis. There's even one guy who outfitted his snowmobile with wheels - and hits 120 m.p.h. The typical driver gets times of 14 seconds with speeds of 90 to 100 m.p.h. (Professional rocket cars do it in fewer than 5 seconds.)

Racing to the scene

People bring their vehicles across the backcountry roads to this place about 50 miles south of Chicago. It's the newest of three such raceways within 100 miles of the Windy City.

Its horseshoe-shaped stadium wraps around the starting line and has seating for 60,000. But tonight most of the racing fans are down on the track in their cars, and just a few friends and family members populate the stands.

Clad in a leather bodysuit, Mr. Mueller sits astride his racing fuel-fed motorcycle. As he revs the throttle, his bike lets out a chest-thumping roar. In an instant, he's hurtling into the night, wobbling at first, but then hitting 130 m.p.h. His time: 11. …

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