Drag racing has a driving force behind it in Central Oregon this season. The force is the drivers themselves.
Save for the drivers who formed a nonprofit group and went to work when they learned the airport board that grants the lease did not renew the former holder's agreement, fans would not be watching and racers would not be competing at the Madras Dragstrip's eighth-mile asphalt course this year.
Now the drivers and fans can be assured of competition being available for five years, as long as standards are met. But those involved don't back away from competition. Leaders of their divisions like Matt Rich in high school racing and Jamie McPheeters and Annette Hausinger (women battling for the Sportsman division title) make it clear they want more competition and participation.
Teetering toward extinction without a lease in place, the dragstrip was rescued by members who formed the Madras Drag Strip Association. When that organization registered with both state and national groups that help put on drag-racing events everyone could begin preparing for a new season.
"We didn't want drag racing to die (in Madras)," said Hausinger, a member of the board of directors at Madras Dragstrip.
Vicki McKelvy, president of the board, echoed that sentiment. She noted that while many competitors at the Madras Dragstrip are from outside Madras, on most weekends a decided majority of racers reach Madras from their homes in only an hour or so.
Many Madras Dragstrip racers arrive from Bend, Redmond, Prineville or La Pine, as well as Culver. If consolidated, the racers from within 60 or 70 miles of Madras make up at least 75 percent of the most regular competitors.
McPheeters is also on the board which helped set up the schedule for the track. She joined McKelvy and Hausinger in praising the teamwork present at events the board arranged, such as various work days to help get ready for this season.
"We rebuilt the admission stand. Then we spruced up the tower and got a new starting tree," McPheeters noted of just a few improvements.
Volunteers provided a lot of labor while installing a better guard rail system along with wiring for timing and computer connections, McKelvy explained.
Now that the work is completed, the dragstrip has undergone the equivalent of a facelift, said members of the board of directors. Yet, it is still one-eighth mile long. Any added length will take substantial fund-raising or donation of a lot of material and labor, McKelvy added.
By keeping the track the same length, the board has allowed drivers to remain familiar with how much time it should take to make their run. Computers calculate all the information on the reaction times, elapsed times and speed for each run. Wiring allowing for that was connected in previous seasons, but that is now updated.
Asphalt and labor to provide an improved return lane for cars after their races are complete was provided by Hooker Creek.
It makes for not only a safer, but more "fun" environment for the racers, said Bend's Tom Stockero, one of the many visitors to the track who come to virtually every event.
"We couldn't have done it without the volunteers," said Hausinger. She said the time saved when at least a dozen drivers helped string wires inside plastic pipes easily saved a full day's work for the board.
But the group of five that signed the papers forming the nonprofit does its share too, McKelvy noted.
Rounded out by Fred Lang and Marcy Swift, the board worked to gain approval for upgrades which have kept the dragstrip recognized by the NHRA.
The five-year lease approval noted earlier was the product of inspections after the work on the strip was done. Once the board earned the lease approval of airport-industrial board members, the way was paved, so to speak, for approvals from the city council and county commission.
If conditions allow, there might even be an expansion of the track to a quarter-mile. That would be quite coincidental in light of one of the first operators of a dragstrip in Madras now being in charge of the renowned Woodburn Dragstrip.
Some racers who frequent the Madras Dragstrip do it just for fun. Others, like Rich, a student at Crook County High in Prineville, shows the potential to move along to big venues, such as Woodburn Dragstrip.
"There's something for almost anyone who wants to drag," noted McPheeters, whose husband, Denny McPheeters, also races. There is a Pro division for those who have added horsepower and made other modifications to what started as stock cars. Sport division racers can make fewer changes, but the cars are usually constructed especially for drag racing, the McPheeters and others said.
There is even a Junior division for drivers under 16. It uses miniaturized dragsters with limited horsepower. Those drivers thus get used to running a straight line without dealing with dangerous amounts of torque on the tires.
Another division that has attracted a specialized group is the snowmobile / motorcycle group. Snowmobiles can have what is known as "after market roller skis" installed in place of the tracks that usually propel them. The hard rubber rollers perform more like pneumatic tires so that the snowmobiles go even faster than motorcycles in some cases.
Most the vehicles establish a good grip at the start which propels them toward solid runs.
The speeds won't be as fast as at Woodburn, but most drivers don't want that anyway, noted Stockero, among others.
Drivers each estimate their elapsed time for the run, so cars which estimated slower times have their lights run first while the others are on a delay. Having a reaction time that is close to the perfect .5 second will make up space on the opponent for all drivers. Knowing one's car well enough to estimate its time over the eighth-mile course is another of the secrets to winning.
There are plenty of things that can be done for some cars in the time between runs, if they aren't performing as drivers or owners want. Often, though, when their cars are running smoothly, said Denny McPheeters, the drivers will just let their cars cool down in preparation for their next run.
Once in a while, though, batteries might run down due to an alternator problem or other problem. At that point, chargers are plugged in to have cars ready for their next run.
At the Madras Dragstrip, though, it's only the cars that need charging, the drivers have proven they have plenty of energy to keep their track operating.
"We're always looking for more people," McElvy noted of the drivers preferring challenges instead of easy runs to their victories.