Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SPORTS >> Racing league gets go ahead

Leader staff writer

The green light is on for a new drag racing league geared for high school students as a way to encourage higher grades, a safer place to race and a chance to win money for college.

The Arkansas High School Drag Racing League is a nonprofit eight-race series open to any high school student with a state driver’s permit or license.

Races will be held, once a month on Saturday starting in March, alternating between Centerville Dragway in Yell County near Dardanelle and Prescott Raceway in Clark County.

Students will race each other accumulating points for wins. At the end of the season in November, the student with the most points will be crowned series champion and an award will be given to the school with the most points.

Any student who has raced and gained points in five of the eight races will be invited to the state championship in November.The winner of the race will receive a college scholarship. The amount of the scholarship is based on the amount of money raised during the racing season.

The cost to participate is $20 each race date; $5 goes towards the scholarship fund; $5 goes to prizes for the drag racing league’s awards banquet at the end of the year, and $10 goes to track operating fees. Membership in the league is $10 and is required.

Students can race any street-legal state-registered vehicles except motorcycles. No purpose-built racecars are allowed.

A vehicle has to meet the league’s technical inspection. Vehicles are required to have seat belts with shoulder straps. Racers must wear a helmet.

The drag races are an eighth-mile in length. The fastest a vehicle can go is 7.9 seconds. If they go quicker, they are disqualified. The average speeds are estimated to be around 75 mph.

“If they want to race their momma’s mini-van, they can, as long as their parents or guardian sign a waiver and a release,” Jacksonville High School auto technology teacher Wayne Grif-fin said.

Many students don’t have a license because their grades are too low. State law requires a student have at least a 2.0 grade-point average to get their driver’s permit.

Griffin thinks the drag racing league will encourage students to improve their grades to get their license and into the automotive technology classes.

GPA’s will be checked before running in the state championship race.

Students are required to have their parent or guardian accompany them to the track the first time they race. Liability falls on the tracks and not on the school districts.

During the races vehicles cannot use nitrous oxide. Turbochargers and supercharges are allowed if they are factory stock. A vehicle’s identification number and build history will be checked.

Cars and trucks must have mufflers and run on street tires, no slicks. Additional rules on the series will soon be posted on a Facebook page, Centerville Dragway’s and Prescott Race-way’s websites.

The races have no limit to the number of participants, but the high school races will end before dark.

“If 500 cars show up, we’ll run them until the races are over. If a student loses the race, they are finished for the day. They will have to learn how to make their vehicle better,” Griffin said.

Jacksonville High School auto shop installed a chassis dynamometer last year from a $65,000 Perkins grant for vocational and technical programs.

The dynamometer is machine that measures power from the wheels of the vehicle. Students can see how changes make to their car or truck can improve or even slow down their vehicle. He said the Cabot High School auto tech program is taking a field trip to Jacksonville to see how the dynamometer works.

Griffin said if Jacksonville gets a fair, then a drag strip could be made along the midway. Races could be held when no events are scheduled. They could host a regional or state championship high school race event.

“I think it is one of the best things in the area,” Kevin Whitmore, a parent and drag racer from Jacksonville said about the high school drag racing league.

“Everyone gripes about the kids hanging out. Kids complain they are bored with nothing to do. It is opportunity for them to learn and grow and earn scholarships,” Whitmore said.

“I put (information about the drag racing series) on the bulletin board, and I had 100 kids asking about it,” Cabot High School auto tech teacher Bill McReynolds said.

McReynolds said by allowing only street-driven vehicles to race everybody has a fair opportunity to win.

“We’ve been talking about doing this for several years. The more high schools that get involved, the more successful it will be. We always had a competitive atmosphere between Cabot and Jacksonville,” McReynolds said between the auto tech programs.

“I see a lot of positives coming out of it. We have a lot of competitive sports you can be a spectator in, but in this you can participate,” McReynolds said.

“It is not gender specific. It might encourage more girls to race. Girls tend to make good automotive students, he said.

McReynolds said girls are more detailed orientated than boys. He said the racing series may cause more girls to be in the automotive technology programs.

Cabot auto tech paraprofessional Dewey Landers said the drag racing series can help parents reconnect and be involved with their teens. He said most are latchkey kids.

“It sounds like it will be fun. If I had a vehicle I’d be in it,” Luke Brown, a Cabot High School senior said.

Cabot High School sophomore Kramer Helmbeck liked the idea of the racing series.

“You don’t have to have some souped-up truck or car. You just have to have a vehicle,” he said.

“If I had my license, I’d do it,” Dakota Cleveland, a Cabot High School senior said.

For additional information about the Arkansas High School Drag Racing League, email HSDRL@yahoo.com.