June 18, 2011
Nitro Jam anything but a drag
By Terry Jones, QMI Agency
Once upon a time, a long time ago, drag racing was big in Edmonton.
Terry Capp, Gary Beck and Gordie Bonin were big local names in the NHRA Nationals and other major events.
And the biggest stars in the sport, back when they were names that transcended all of sport, were regulars here.
Big Daddy Don Gartlitz. Jerry ‘The King’ Ruth. Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme. Cha Cha Muldowney. They made movies about those people.
Graham Light of Edmonton went on to become the NHRA vice-president of operations.
Ron Hodgson was a huge sponsor of the sport, and his Pacemaker Automotive was one of several local businesses connected to drag racing at the time. He became a major car dealer and a member of the Edmonton Oilers 37-member ownership group.
But Edmonton International Speedway became a housing development, and, like the Can-Am, Trans-Am and Continental Series auto racing, drag racing went away.
Like IndyCar racing, it has now returned.
Unlike IndyCar’s profile, however, a significant percentage of the population hasn’t been paying attention.
Next weekend, with the Edmonton Oilers drafting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and hopefully several large defencemen and an Eskimos preseason game at Commonwealth, a big-time drag racing isn’t likely to get a lot of ink.
On Thursday, a press conference will be held as the City of Edmonton takes notice and Mayor Stephen Mandel declares the weekend “Edmonton Nitro Jam Weekend.”
Not the sexiest moniker, perhaps, but better than “Mopar Rocky Mountain Nitro Jam Nationals Weekend.”
If the mayor is going to take notice, perhaps the old drag racing writer from 40 years ago should consider it as well.
Why is it that drag racing, once a fully accredited part of the Edmonton sports scene, is only returning as sort of a cult event, tucked away from the community out around the international airport?
“Of the entire IHRA Nitro Jam schedule in both Canada and the U.S, Edmonton is No. 1, Grand Bend, Ont., is No. 2 and San Antonio, Texas, would be No. 3,” said IHRA director of media Larry Crum, from yesterday’s series event in Salt Lake City.
Now there’s the entire NHRA world out there, and this guy is a professional flack, but that’s still a fair claim.
“From fan attendance to the hundreds of cars from all over the continent, this event has grown to be the largest drag race in all of Canada, and one of the biggest in all of North America,” said Crum.
“However, outside of the immediate drag racing world and the Edmonton area, the event doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves since it first came to the city in 2003 with an experimental race.”
Whatever the case in terms of previous promotion and production, Crum says the only thing missing in Edmonton is the realization by the community at large of what’s going on at Castrol Raceway.
“It’s now ‘The Big One’ when it comes to drag racing in Canada. It is now ‘The Big One.’ in the IHRA as well,” Crum said.
“This year it will feature the largest contingent of professional classes seen anywhere in the world, from 514-kmh top fuel dragsters, the largest open nostalgia nitro funny car competition anywhere in the country to additional classes, including alcohol funny cars, nitro Harleys and pro modifieds.”
Funny car driver Tim Boychuk of Edmonton doesn’t have a profile like Terry Capp, Gary Beck or Gordie Bonin, perhaps, but he’s out there as a star with a car, too.
As a former part owner of Castrol Raceway before he went into racing, Boychuk, instead of putting on the show, has become the show.
“Edmonton is such a huge event and there are so many great racers that come out to this event ... that’s what makes it so much fun to be a part of,” Boychuk said from Salt Lake City.
“The fans are great, the track is great and we’re looking forward to another really great year.
“Winning at home last year was definitely the highlight of my career, and winning both nights was unbelievable.
“Setting records and all the wins last year also made for an incredible year.
“We have a great, consistent crew with an awesome car, and racing in Edmonton is huge for me and my team as it is my hometown and I have a lot of friends and family that come out to watch.
“I know that I will have a car to beat, so we just have to make sure the driver shows up.”
If you’ve got it, flaunt it.