Sometimes luck happens

By Jeffrey Fazio
Special Sections Writer

Summer Slam is a national sport compact drag racing event that is held annually at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. This year the event took place July Fourth weekend and it was the first time I had entered it.

I entered the heads up competition, which means I was going to be racing other cars in my class straight from the green light to the finish line, what is traditionally considered drag racing. This differs from bracket racing (in which more people participate) which is handicap-racing, giving a slower car a head start.

I entered my turbocharged 1991 Toyota MR2 into the Street Tire Class. This class is reserved for all-wheel-drive (AWD) and rear-wheel-drive street-legal cars running on department of transpo rtation-approved tires (no racing slicks allowed). This sport compact event is limited to 4-cylinder cars and 6-cylinder cars with overhead cams.
The first part of the weekend was spent taking qualifying runs. Each driver got three chances to qualify for the race and the eight fastest drivers proceeded to the actual race.

Once qualifying was over, the racing ladder was determined. The ladder is the pairing of the cars into individual races. The winner of each race advances to the next round. The loser goes home. I've been home early many times this year.

The actual rounds of racing are ominously called the elimination rounds. To accelerate this process, the top qualifiers beat up on the bottom qualifiers in the first round. Assuming no upsets, the bottom qualifiers will be the first ones home.

At Summer Slam, I qualified fifth, which means I was scheduled to be the first one home. My best qualifying run was 12.0 seconds. The first round I was pitted against Ricardo Bailey in his 1992 AWD Eagle Talon. Bailey had qualified fourth with a very low 11-second pass.
When the light turned green, I managed to out-launch the AWD Talon and maintain a slight lead to half-track. Then, as luck would have it, Bailey, for some reason, slowed down and I won the race with a time of 11.9 seconds.

In the four other national events I have entered, I have never advanced beyond the first round, so this was truly exciting. Throw in the fact that the 11.9-second pass was only the fourth time I have ever done the 1/4 mile in under 12 seconds, and it was no surprise that I was smiling. Winning that round put me into the semifinal round, which meant that I had earned at least $100.

In the semifinals I was up against the No. 1 qualifier, Albert Diaz. Diaz had qualified with a blistering 9.4-second pass in his 1997 Toyota Supra. The difference between his 9.4-second qualifying run and my 12.0-second qualifying is a distance greater th an 20 car lengths. I wasn\rquote t even close enough to him to respectably be called an underdog. I was truly out of my league.

I roll up next to Diaz. It was truly a pleasure just to be there, next to such a fast car.
I managed to pull a significantly faster reaction time than Diaz and I beat him to the 330-foot mark. As he came breathing down my back to the 1/8-mile mark he blew his timing belt.

With his Supra putting down so much more power than I was, the race was still not over. As silly as it may sound, I found myself racing against a broken car that was still potentially much faster than me. So I raced on and somewhere beyond the 1,000-foot mark, he was losing serious ground and I started screaming for joy as I completed an 11.8-second run. I beat the odds and won my race against the No. 1 qualifier.

This allowed me to enter my first final-round appearance, on any level, of drag racing. In the finals, I faced Keith Loforte in his 1992 AWD Eagle Talon and that is where my luck ran out. I had an awesome reaction time and launch against Loforte, but I missed the crucial second-gear shift. Loforte pulled away from me faster than a scorned wife leaving divorce court.

He ended up running an 11.1-second pass which was significantly faster than I could have ever gone, even without missing that shift. Loforte took first place and a $1,000 prize. I took the runner-up spot, $500 in cash and a very nice 2-foot-tall trophy.

I have since had many debates with friends and foes as to whether or not I am correct in saying that I won those first two rounds. Some say I did not win those races, but rather my opponents lost them. A friend said the first two rounds were merely a war of attrition. So be it, I won them.

They say I got lucky, I agree. "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," wrote Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a Roman playwright and philosopher.
So I got lucky at Summer Slam.