The Top Drag Racing Stories
in the New England Region
in 2021

by Neil Van Zile

The 2021 drag racing season has ended in New England; the 2021 bench racing season is just getting rolling. Below are my thoughts on the most important and/or interesting stories in drag racing in the New England region from this past season. They are not in any particular order, and I make no claim that these are the only stories that should be included on such a list. In fact, some of these stories are only important to me.

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1. The Offer To Purchase New England Dragway

I’m not completely sure that this even belongs in a list of big stories on 2021. I’m am hopeful that the newfound positive attention that NED, and drag racing at the local level, in general, received because of this event will translate into an even bigger story in 2022. 

If you didn’t hear about this when it happened, you can read about the offer and the aftermath at the links below.

Part One – What We Know About the Offer to Purchase New England Dragway

Part Two – The Hopeful Future of New England Dragway

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2. The Weather

Undoubtedly the weather in 2021 has to be near the top of my list of important stories. And it wasn’t just the rain.

Rainy weather was a major factor in 2021, although there wasn’t any weekend where the rain washed out ALL the drag racing; there was at least some racing somewhere every weekend.

By my completely unscientific count, seven out of the 31 scheduled weekends were more or less a complete washout, including the first two weeks and the final weekend of the season. Seven more weekends were severely affected by the weather, making for a total of 14 weekends out of 31 at least partially rained out. That means that bad weather affected nearly 45% of the racing schedule over the whole summer.

Rain (and even a little snow) delayed the start of the season, and rain also meant that the season ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Rain basically washed out racing in the month of July completely. Three out of the four weekends in July were rained out and the fourth weekend was a partial washout.

Both of the summer holiday weekends, Memorial Day and The Fourth of July were completely borked by three days of wet weather.

The NHRA Divisional at New England Dragway was shortened in an effort to avoid Hurricane Henri. Even with that, the fog bank rolled in to completely envelop the track, forcing the postponement of nearly all of the final rounds.

But wait, there’s more.

Three out of the four nostalgia races scheduled at New England Dragway in 2021 were washed out; The Northeast Nostalgia Classic in May, the Oriental’s Hall of Fame race in July, and the Drag’n In The 50s event in August.

Severe weather completely took out the timing system at New Oxford Dragway on September 17, forcing them to cancel racing for that week’s Friday Night Bracket Points race. Port-A-Tree came to the rescue and fixed the system in time for racing to resume on the following Wednesday night.

That same storm also shorted out the win lights on the timing towers at Lebanon Valley Dragway. That problem wasn’t fixed during the remainder of the season and the track had to make sure that they had solid coverage for announcers for the rest of the season just so the spectators would know who won each race. The racers were forced to find out from their time slip whether they had won the round or not.

While we were all keeping our eyes on the COVID situation, Mother Nature kicked us in the teeth with nasty weather.

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3. COVID-19

The story with COVID-19 and drag racing wasn’t really about how COVID ruined the racing season. It’s actually quite the opposite. If 2021 proved anything, it is that drag racing is a very COVID-friendly activity.

Drag racing is an outdoor activity, so the virus didn’t have a closed space in which to spread. On top of that, the social distancing is built-in, with everyone separated by the width of their cars and trailers.

The supply chain issues that resulted from the pandemic and its aftermath did affect at least two events. Dino Lawrence’s Dover Dragstrip Reunion had a number of late cancelations from teams who broke something earlier in the season and then were unable to get the parts to fix their cars in time for that event. Paul Zona also had similar issues with his plan to run the “Boston Strangler” tribute car at the Arnie Karp Memorial in September.

The indoor activities that we all look forward to during the off-season may be affected by COVID (the Boston World Of Wheels still doesn’t have a venue for 2022), but we can be pretty certain that we will all be able to get back to the drag strips in April of next year.

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4. New Announcers, a Trophy Boy, and a Timing System Controller

One pleasant surprise was the emergence of a new generation of track support workers at dragstrips around the region.

Snappy dresser Cam Murray has had Great Success behind the microphone at New England Dragway

Cam Murray has been an active member of the NED community for a long time. He came up through the Jr. Drag Racing ranks and moved pretty seamlessly into the full-size car classes. He has also been actively promoting the sport through his other efforts, including his “He Dialed What?” podcasts. He is a true student of the sport, and very rarely at a loss for words. It was almost inevitable that he would end up working the microphone at NED. His knowledge and enthusiasm add up to a great “racer’s announcer.” But he can also make the more complex aspects of bracket racing understandable to non-racers.

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“Top Fuel” Seth Noble developed his skill behind the mic by announcing the results of his Hot Wheels races.

The big surprise addition to the announcing team at NED has been “Top Fuel” Seth Noble. Seth is a current participant in the Jr. Dragster A competition, but he has found his true calling as a drag racing announcer. He seemed a little nervous on his first spin at the mic, but he has quickly found his voice, and his genuine excitement has proven contagious. His mom says that Seth has been practicing for this most of his life, starting when he would pretend to be the announcer when he was playing with his Hot Wheels.

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If you have been to Lebanon Valley Dragway in the past few seasons, then you have probably seen Zac Prochera prowling the pits with his camera. Zac is on the autism spectrum, and he has proven to be an invaluable resource, with his savant-level knowledge of almost everything related to drag racing at LVD and in the Northeast.

Zac Prochera is a drag racing savant who loves to talk about drag racing, a perfect combination for an announcer.

He can tell you who won in any class on any weekend and what their ET was when they did. I was lucky enough to be an ear-witness to Zac’s first effort as an announcer on the last weekend of the season, and I have to admit that I was more than a little impressed. Zac may struggle with his face-to-face social skills because of his autism, but he is a natural at the microphone. He wasn’t just good, he was nearly perfect. I’m really looking forward to hearing his work at the mic in 2022.

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At New Oxford Dragway, a young man named Carter Hanson has made his mark as the new Trophy Boy. Carter’s parents are Jen and Jordan Hanson, and they have been active racers at NOD for a number of years. Jordon also makes the trip up to Limestone, Maine to run his drag car through the timing system of the Loring Timing Association.

If this young man comes up to you with a trophy in his hand, you better take it! Carter Hanson is the new Trophy Boy at New Oxford Dragway.

Carter has always been a little scared of crowds, but someone thought maybe he would like to be the person who hands out the trophies to the winners each Friday night at New Oxford. It turns out that was just what Carter needed. His mom Jen reports that “now He loves race days because of all of you! Never underestimate the impact you have on the people around you. You’ve certainly made a huge impact on us.”

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After a number of years working with his dad as part of the top-end safety crew at New England Dragway, Kevin Dunn has taken over the timing system computer in the tower at New England Dragway.

Kevin Dunn

He has proven to be very well suited to the task and his experience as a safety crew member gives him a strong background in catching potential safety issues at the starting line before they become major problems down the track. Kevin’s smiling disposition has also added a sense of fun to the tower.

Travis Keller
Mr. and Mrs. James Herwig

I also have to mention Travis Keller,  Jim Herwig, and Jen D’Allesandro. They were already part of the New England Dragway support team before this season, but they all had more responsibilities dumped on them due to the recent personnel changes and COVID-related issues. The three of them stepped up and made the transition as smooth as it possibly could be. And oh yeah, Jim got married to Patty Blake this year. Congratulations to both of them!

Jen D’Allesandro

Congratulations and Thanks to Cam, Seth, Zac, Carter, Kevin, Jim, Jen, and Travis, and thanks for stepping up!

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5. New England Dragway Racers Dominate at the Divisional Level

The list of winners from New England Dragway at the various NHRA races in the region pretty much says it all. 

New England Nationals

Nick Meloni – Top Dragster
John Harper – Super Street
John Gray –  Super Stock AA/SA

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LVD Divisional

Logan Horton – Jr. Dragster 6-9

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Division 1 Jr. Dragster Championship at  LVD

Alex Erickson – Jr. Street Consolation
Kaylee Genualdo – 15-17 class.
Chris Khoury – 13-14 Jrs.
Logan Horton – R/U in 6-9 Jrs.
Tyler Beaulieu – Best Engineered
Cody Cumming – Best Appearing
Team Champions and Team Spirit Award

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NED Divisional

Gregory Gay – Super Stock
Todd Bednaz – Stock Eliminator
Mike Sawyer – Super Gas
Nick Meloni – Top Dragster
Brian Bell – Super Comp
John Harper – Super Street
Kyle Genualdo – Jr. 13-17
Alicia Gouveia – R/U Jr. 6-9

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NHRA Northeast Division Bracket Finals

Pro Gamblers – Jared Kinson
Super Race Of Champions – Jackson Worters
Pro Race Of Champions – Jared Kinson
Sportsman Race Of Champions – Cam Murray
Super Bracket Finals – Theresa Cumming
Pro Bracket Finals (and Summit Series National Champion) – Dan Caissie
Team Champions

The Bracket Finals results were particularly impressive. I joked with Team NED coordinator Stephanie Samson Correia that I am worried that if they keep this up, Team New England may not get invited to any Divisional events in the future.

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6. Jim Fisher’s 7.98 in a stock-bodied V6 Buick

This story really isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. But it was a Top Ten moment for me personally.

It was cold that day in West Lebanon, NY; cloudy and windy most of the time. The sun would come out occasionally and threaten to actually warm you up. But it was a hollow threat; some of us took our jackets off for a short time, then the clouds would return and we would all start shivering again.

The cold made the left lane treacherous in the morning. It was a Saturday Test & Tune session, so many of the drivers were inexperienced. I saw quite a few squirrels get sideways off the starting line and keep their foot in it. It got to the point where I had to take a break because I was afraid someone would hit something and I just couldn’t stand to watch it any longer.

By the early afternoon, there was enough heat in the track that cars were starting to hook up, even in the left lane.

It was under these conditions that Jim Fisher of South Windsor, CT decided to do some test hits in his 1987 Buick Grand National. He made some early runs, all in the right lane.

His first run wasn’t anything special, and his second run at about 3:20 p.m. resulted in a serious wheelstand that made Jim get out of it early.

At 3:20 p.m., Fisher did a wheelstand that caused him to get out of it early.

At around 4:30 that afternoon, Jim made his way to the lanes again. The clouds had settled in and it was cooling off even more. This time the car hooked up, straight and tight. There wasn’t any of the normal G-body twist. The front wheels came up about four inches and the car settled into a clean, strong, straight-as-a-string run. There was nothing dramatic about the run, no shaking, no fishtailing, no weird noises.

To be honest, the first I knew that I had just seen something was when Zac Prochera (see story #4 above) yelled into the mic. He immediately recognized what he had seen and couldn’t control his excitement. I looked at the ET on the timing tower and wondered if Jim Fisher had been running the 1/8th mile. 7.98 was the number on the scoreboard, and that just didn’t compute in my brain for a second. That was a more-or-less street-legal V6 Buick, and cars like that just don’t go that fast.

Oh, but they do.

4:30 p.m. – Straight as a string and quick.

And I got to see it. As a photographer, I don’t usually get to watch a full run. I’m focused on getting ready to photograph the next car in line. But when a car comes up to run a single test hit I get to watch the whole pass, although most times the driver does a half-pass or has a problem and gets out of it.

That is why this is on my list of top stories for the year. It was a test & tune Saturday, on a cold day in October, so only about 20 of us got to see this pass.

I spoke with Jim a few weeks later, and he assured me that there is more in the car. And I assured him that I would be watching.

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7. Arnie Karp

Unfortunately, we are starting to see a number of racers leave us. Hardly a week goes by without someone announcing the passing of a long-time drag racer on Facebook. There have been weeks when two or three racers passed away.

But one racer who we lost this season stands out – Arnie Karp, driver of the famous “Boston Strangler” funny car.

Arnie Karp’s family at the Memorial event at New England Dragway in September.

It seems that everyone who has been to the drag races in New England any time in the past 50 years has an Arnie Karp story. His “Boston Strangler” funny cars were always a fan favorite. Arnie and his partner, Keith Hughes were a dominant force in the Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks in the 1970s and 1980s, whether it was on the match race circuit, or at NHRA and IHRA National and Divisional races.

For an in-depth history of Arnie Karp, Keith Hughes, and the “Boston Strangler” you can read about them here.

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8. The Next Generation of Racers

Last, but certainly not least in my list of top stories is the growing emergence of the new generation of drag racers. The list of successful second and third-generation drag racers continues to grow. Most of these racers ended up winning a championship trophy in 2021.

Jackson Worters – ex-Jr. Dragster pilot and son of “The Hook”, Bill Worters, Jackson is the Super Pro Champ at NED for 2021.

Jared Kinson and Angela Ray Kinson – Jared returned to racing after a short break, and Angela is making her mark in Top Sportsman. Both of them made trips to the Winner’s Circle this season. Jared ended up as Pro Champion at NED.

Cam and Kyle Murray – these two ex-Jr. Dragster competitors have had Great Success lately. Both have been winners more than once in 2021.

Kyle Murray takes it all in as Steve Clukey imparts some racing wisdom to the next generation.

Shawn Nichols – the son of long-time Lebanon Valley racer, Grant Nichols, Shawn has taken his dad’s old Mustang to the Winner’s Circle and won the championship for NESSA.

Jim Petrecky – this second-generation racer is the son of the late Jon Petreckey. Jim raced his way to the Winner’s Circle multiple times this year at LVD.

Eric Khoury is another Jr. Dragster racer who has moved up to the big cars. He is a member of a racing family and he earned the championship trophy in the Iannotti Bros. Select Cars Top Sportsman Series.

DJ Pires – another ex-Jr. Dragster driver, DJ is the All-Star Racing Association champ.

Will Munroe – the grandson of the late Carl Munroe of TSR Racing Products, Will won the Big Eliminator at the Gassah Guys Mid-Season Championships in Winterport.

Britt Taylor – Britt is the 2021 champion of the Northeast Old Drag Racers and Musclecar Association (NODRAMA). She is neither old nor does she drive a muscle car. But she is the NODRAMA Queen for 2021.

Nelson Belot, Jr. has proven to be a versatile young driver. He put his 1962 Valiant into the sand trap at LVD during time trials for the NY State Bracket Championship and then went on to win the race in his dad’s Oldsmobile. He also finished in third place in LVD’s Wednesday Night Street ET category.

Austin Romano – This young man became the 2021 champ in the Sleds and Bikes class at New Oxford.

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That’s it for me. Let the bench racing begin.