Writer’s Diary: Oh, The People You’ll Meet

Hi. Hello. Welcome back to my little corner of the internet, the one where I get to tell you stories (my dream come true!). It’s basically the equivalent of inviting you to a party and then dimming the lights to show you slides of family vacations. Now that you’re super-stoked, grab a beverage and settle in.

Last week, we talked about the miracle of a gal like me ending up at a place like National Dragster and how I almost wrecked it all. If you missed it, you can catch up here.

This week, I’m gonna tell you about a couple of impactful interactions I had at my very first race wearing the blue NHRA shirt. When you’re finished reading, if you have any interesting stories of your own about meetings at the drag strip that changed your life, send them to me at winlightnews@gmail.com.

Alrighty, here we go.

The National Dragster writing staff arrived at Bristol Dragway on Friday morning, bright and early. I was shell-shocked and exhausted, yet completely high on nerves; I hadn’t slept a wink the night before, but the adrenaline was more effective than a double-shot of expresso.

With Candida Benson in a pressroom (not the one at Bristol Dragway, but you get the picture).

Fellow Associate Editor Candida Benson and I got settled in the pressroom of the tower, and I absorbed the view out the picture windows ā€“ good gracious, that view. Bristol Dragway is a racing facility like no other. The dragstrip cuts right through a hollow between mountains rich with vegetation. Plentiful trees are absurdly lush in June, when NHRA typically races there, and those trees are a strangely vibrant shade of green. Please pause here, go find a dictionary, and turn to the entry for “picturesque.” There, you will likely find Bristol Dragway.

From inside the pressroom at Bristol. I wish I was there right now, actually.

Once our workspace for the weekend was all set up, Candida and I ventured to the pits to meet the drivers. I’m not sure how I imagined this process, but it took me by surprise. We walked right up to driver after driver, and they were all clearly busy doing important driver things ā€“ talking to their crew chiefs, signing autographs for fans at the ropes, mixing fuel, or working on their racecars. But no matter what they were doing, they looked up when they sensed us there, smiled, and welcomed us into their space. We ducked under ropes and sat in lounges and stood across the engine compartment from Pro Stock drivers fine-tuning $150,000+ machines, and the whole time I was thinking, “This can’t possibly be real.”

Oh, but it was. And that truth really clicked for me when I met Funny Car racer Jack Beckman. He was at the ropes talking with fans, and he acknowledged us and then stepped over to chat after he tied up his conversation. When Candida introduced me as the newest writer at National Dragster, he looked down at my extended hand and shook his head. “No, we don’t shake hands in drag racing. We’re family.” And with that, Jack Beckman pulled me into a very respectful, genuine hug.

The only picture I could find in my files of Jack Beckman. This is from Phoenix 2010 after he won the race.

Right, that was unexpected. His kind welcome downshifted my nerves, and I was awash with a sense of relief. I didn’t quite feel like I belonged yet, but I had a very distinct feeling that I would.

From there, we walked about another 58 miles (if you know the layout at Bristol, you know) down to the Pro Stock pits.

One of the first camps we visited was KB Racing. Two haulers boldly branded with the Summit Racing logo flanked a pair of Pro Stock Pontiac GXPs, and there was a small child sitting in the driver’s seat of the one on the right. The child’s mother was standing next to him with her hand over part of the steering wheel, protecting what I later learned was the parachute button.

She greeted us as we ducked under the ropes.

“This is Cindy, Jason Line’s wife,” Candida said, and then she gestured to the toddler in the driver’s seat. “And this is Jack.”

Here’s Jack Line, still finding his way into the driver’s seat, a decade after I first met him in that same spot.

Jack was oblivious to us, completely engrossed in his racecar duties, but his mom was quite friendly. After we chatted for a bit, Cindy gestured to the hauler across the pit and told us the drivers were in there.

We walked over, and after a quick introduction to Jason Line and Greg Anderson, we started the long, long, extra-long walk to the starting line. Here’s where I explain that the Pro Stock pits at Bristol are past the scoreboards. The walk back to the starting line is almost half a mile by the time you weave your way through the pits and staging lanes. On foot, with a session or round of racing about to start, that’s a lot of road to cover.

At the ropes with Greg Anderson, the second-most winning driver ever in the Pro Stock category. This was taken a few years after our first meeting.

Once we reached the starting line (and I’d met my step-goal for the day), we walked out and took our position on the grass next to the track, about 200 feet out, just in time for the first pair of Pro Stockers. They laid down side-by-side burnouts, and the throaty rumble reverberated off the sides of the mountains and right into the part of my heart previously reserved only for true love. I laughed. I actually laughed, right out loud.

I didn’t know I loved Pro Stock until that very moment. I liked it, I appreciated it, I knew a bit about it. But standing next to the 1,320 at Bristol Dragway in 2007, I fell off the deep end for those racecars. Head. Over. Heels.

But wait, there’s more (scroll down).

The last pair of Pro Stock cars were rolling through the waterbox, and as they were about to do their burnouts, I saw that the one in the lane closest to us was Jason Line, the last driver I met before we made our way up for the session.

Candida and I watched as he heated up the tires and shifted his way through third and fourth to get to high gear, a thick trail of smoke wafting from the GXP.

Got this photo of Jason Line during the burnout at Bristol Dragway in 2018. It’s not the GXP mentioned in the story, but can we just pretend like this fits here?

I was watching through the passenger’s side window as he came to a stop before backing up. The sun was coming in from the driver’s side, creating a surreal picture of the driver in shadow with tire smoke dissipating around him. He had stopped just in front of us, and before he put it in reverse, he turned his head, lifted his left hand, and waved. At us. From his racecar.

“Candida,” I said. “He just waved at us. Do they always do that?”

She laughed and asked me if I was sure. She said that no, they didn’t usually do that, but she wouldn’t be surprised.

“He’s funny like that. You’ll see,” she said.

She was right.

At that time, though, there was no way I could have known that I would be fortunate enough to work with KB Racing one day, traveling the nation representing drivers Greg Anderson and Jason Line, and even trailing them across the globe as they participated in the Operation Appreciation troop morale tours for Summit Racing.

With Greg Anderson and Jason Line just before the start of the 2020 NHRA season. My, how time flies. Photo: Gary Nastase/Auto Imagery

Life has such a weird, wacky way about it, doesn’t it? I mean, what if the incredible Bristol Dragway hadn’t been my first racetrack with ND? What if Jack Beckman hadn’t hugged me like I was part of the family? What if Jason Line hadn’t waved at us after his burnout like it was no big deal?

Oh, heck. You guys know I would have stayed anyway.

This story was based at one of the many impressive, incredible racetracks across the country. The drivers mentioned above are two of many, many folks who make drag racing so much more than just racecars charging toward victory. Drag racers aren’t untouchable figures; even the most well-known, successful, and celebrated of them are just human beings. And anyone at an event can walk right up to the ropes and meet them.

Drag racing is family, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

Alright, more next week. Happy Christmas, everyone!

Enjoy your holiday, and (when it’s safe to do so) don’t forget to hug the people you consider family.

Comments

One comment on “Writer’s Diary: Oh, The People You’ll Meet”
  1. david meron says:

    Love all of Kelly’s stories but this one is special to me.

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