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Dragway racing a family event

September 05, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- It's a warm September afternoon at the Mason-Dixon Dragway and the air practically thunders to life with the sound of big engines and raw horsepower.

Males of all ages are everywhere -- fiddling with tires, poking their heads out of cramped driver's seats and wiping grease from their hands and faces.

Nearby, Amber Mahon sits in a golf cart, calm and collected.

She's not intimidated in the least, and perhaps she's not the one who should be.

Amber, 16 has become a force to be reckoned with on the drag strip -- and she has the trophies to prove it, including a recent second-place win in the Junior Dragster Team Finals at the Maryland International Raceway.

She hoped to add another win to her resume Saturday when she participated in two divisions of racing at the Mason-Dixon Dragway's Labor Day Weekend Classic.

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Amber raced her dragster in the junior division -- ages 8 to 17 -- and also planned on racing her 1980 Camaro in the street class competition.

The daughter of Chip and Lori Mahon of Chambersburg, Pa., Amber is among an estimated 300 racers who are vying this weekend for cash prizes and trophies in the annual holiday event, which got under way Friday and continues through Monday.

"It's become a holiday weekend tradition -- the last hurrah before the end of summer," dragway owner Elmer Wachter said. "I've been here for 22 years and I know the Labor Day Classic preceded my arrival."

Wachter said between 3,000 and 4,000 spectators are expected to attend the event.

In addition to the junior dragster and street categories, other classes of competition include pro driver, motorcycle, trophy and high school, he said.

Many of the racers travel from outside of the area, from Pittsburgh to Winchester, Va., Wachter said. But many are locals who race at the track on a regular basis.

"I've known some of these racers for years," he said. "In some cases, I knew them when they were in diapers. Now, they're behind the wheel of a car."

"It's become a family-oriented sport," Wachter said of drag racing. "The mom and dad raced, and now, the children are following in their footsteps."

Amber Mahon is one such example.

The Chambersburg Area Senior High School student said she became interested in racing from watching her father, who has raced over the years.

"I started when I was 10, and I've been racing every weekend from March to November ever since," she said.

Although she loves being behind the wheel of her dragster, Amber said she hasn't ignored her studies and makes As and Bs in her classes.

She hopes to one day become a nurse. But she doesn't plan on giving up racing.

"I want to do this for a long time," she said.

Wachter said Amber is typical of the diversity that is found among racers at the dragway.

"We have doctors, lawyers, landscapers -- every walk of life," he said. "Of course, we have people who work in automotive-related jobs. But you don't have to be a car nut to enjoy this sport."

And while the racers he meets love speed, Wachter said studies have shown them to be among the safest drivers on the road.

"There's this negative stereotype that racers have this need for speed no matter where they drive," he said. "If anything, they have a better grasp of safety because of the rules they follow in competition. As far as I'm concerned, they are some of the best drivers on the road."

Wachter said this weekend's racers will be having fun, but because they will be earning points that affect rankings, it also is a serious competition.

"They all want to win," he said.

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