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Drag racers play it straight and fast

June 06, 2004|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Steve Forney's mistress isn't much of a looker - until you lift her hood.

She's been stripped of such amenities as power steering and air conditioning, her console rigged with gauges and switches, her standard tires switched for "skinnies" and street slicks, and her old hood scoop removed but a new one not yet placed in its gaping hole. But the dull gray 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle's 355-cubic-inch, 450-horsepower engine, super-powerful electric fan and oversized carburetor enable her driver to reach speeds of more than 110 mph in a little more than 12 seconds.

"She's a plain Jane," said Forney, 48, of Halfway. "She's ugly, but she's fast."

He spends a good amount of his free time - too much, his ex-girlfriend used to say - fiddling with the car in his garage and racing her down the quarter-mile dragstrip at Mason-Dixon Dragway east of Hagerstown.

"Chevys allowed?" Forney quipped as he pulled his rumbling car up next to Gary Rudisill's 1969 Dodge Dart parked at the dragway.

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"S'long as it's a muscle car," responded Rudisill of Berkeley Station, W.Va. The longtime drag racing fan turned out to the track with his sons, Gary Rudisill Jr. and Jason Rudisill, on a sunny Saturday in late May to pit the Dart's 440-cubic-inch, nearly 400-horsepower engine against the clock. His best time is about 110 mph in 12 seconds, Rudisill said.

Dragstrip spectators lined fences and bleachers as drivers in vehicles old and new, dragsters, motorcycles, funny cars - even snowmobiles - met in pairs at the gate, spun their tires during smoky burnouts to get the rubber nice and sticky, and pulled up to the starting line in front of the signal light known as the "Christmas tree," before racing down the quarter-mile track.

"Snowmobiles! Cool!" squealed 6-year-old racing fan Lane Brunner of St. Thomas, Pa., after watching Ash Senft race his modified snowmobile down the track. Senft clocked 148 mph in 8.8 seconds.

"It don't snow enough around here. You've gotta do something with 'em," said Senft of Hanover, Pa. He added rollerblade-like wheels and a sizable engine to his snowmobile to make it race-ready, he said.

Kia Guyer started racing junior dragsters when she was 10 and relies upon her confident and aggressive attitude to drive a full-size dragster - the 23-foot-long "Little Kahuna" - that reaches speeds up to 160 mph in about 8.6 seconds, she said. Her hobby satisfies her craving for "the speed and the boys," she said.

"And it's definitely fun to get people's attention," said Guyer, 20, of Baltimore.

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