A Day at the Races


It is a hot summer day high 90’s and my wife and I are bored. We hear an ad for Top Gun Raceway outside of Fallon, proclaiming they would be featuring Jet dragsters. We look at each other and within minutes we are on our way. It is an hour long drive, Lori has never been to this part of the state, and it has been a decade or so since I was. We arrive in Fallon. I’m not sure which was to go to get to the drag strip, but at the corner of US 50 and US 95, I see a sign trailer pointing the way to the track. It is 15 miles of highway to the entrance to the track. About 10 miles away we see what we think could be the strip, although the it is difficult to be sure through the shimmering heat waves the stretch before us. Did I mention it was HOT. We pass thousands of acres of green fields, and the final few miles of desert scrub. We turn right and follow the signs to the parking lot; lot is a superlative term for an acre of dirt filled with cars.

We walk the several hundred yards to the ticket booth and pay our admission, and sign a waiver that pretty much says; “if you get hurt here, it ain’t our fault”, we sign and then walk another quarter mile to the north side grandstands. There is a small building next to them that sells beer and a few hot snacks; a small dried out hamburger or hot dog, not really worth eating. We get a beer.

It is a NHRA sanctioned event, but most of the cars we start watching are mostly locals out there for the fun, and it is fun.

We get up and cross the concrete over pass to the south side of the track into the staging area and look at the cars. There are a couple of trailer next to the control building and we buy a hat for me and a t-shirt for Lori.

We begin looking at the cars waiting to be called to the staging area.

As I walk by one, my brain starts to shudder, and kicks me back to the late 50’s. There sits Swamp Rat 1, and sitting beside it is my one time hero, Don Garlits. Don Garlits was the first man to go 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, and 270 miles per hour in a quarter-mile. He even went over 200 mph in an 1/8th of a mile. I am in awe as I look at Swap Rat 1, he has brought it out for the event, it was no longer painted with flames, just a brown primer. I wait in line and ask for his autograph, which he gives me on a small pink piece of paper. My day is made; until I move to the next car.

Sitting next to him I see a woman; not just any woman, but the FIRST woman to have ever won the NHRA Winston world points CHAMPIONSHIP, Shirley Muldowney. I am godsmacked, and I wait in line for her autograph, also on a small pink piece of paper. We had heard nothing of this dual surprise.


It is several hours later and dark as we get to the Jet dragsters. We move up to a wire fence on the north side of the overpass and see the jet dragster pull up. It is only about 5 yards away from us on the starting line.

The jet begins to whine as we watch, and then it gives a loud bang, causing both of us to jerk to attention, it pops three or for more times, and then we watch as a four foot flame bursts from the rear of the car. It takes another minute, and several more bursts of flame before it begins to warm up. Soon it roars to full power and sends out a cloud of white smoke reeking of Kerosene fumes. We are engulfed in smoke. At full power my wife is now in a trance, the volume and vibrations are effecting her in an almost sensual way. We are oblivious to the fact that if the jet were to fail, and explode we are in a direct path of any shrapnel, that could easily tear through our hearts or brains. We are lucky as the jet dragster tears from the lights and hauls ass down the track. There is another car after that, that we luckily survived.

It is late as we arrive home and get ready for bed, and as I climb in I can smell Kerosene in her hair.

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