July 15, 2011
She doesn’t even like the smell of nitro
By JIM CRESSMAN, The London Free Press
GRAND BEND - Desk jockey Monday through Friday, car jockey Saturday and Sunday.
Such is life for Laurie Cannister, one of the most accomplished women in drag racing During the week, she's a payroll accountant in Johnstown, Ohio. On weekends, she races a prostalgia nitro funny car at tracks in the U.S. and Canada with the IHRA Nitro Jam.
"It's so much better being in the car," she said Friday as Grand Bend Motorplex prepared for the 11th annual Mopar Nationals on Saturday and Sunday.
"I tell them at work the way I relieve my stress from work is driving a nitro funny car on the weekend. If I have a really bad week -- and I didn't have such a good one this week -- it's a lot of fun getting rid of all that stress."
And Cannister is so happy to be back in a car -- she was given an opportunity in May to make her second comeback.
She'd won the alcohol funny car championship in 2008, but the IHRA then dropped the class as it began its push toward nitro for its pro show.
"Bullet" Bob Floch phoned and made her an offer she couldn't refuse - driving his prostalgia nitro funny car. There was no hesitation on her part.
"I wasn't driving anything at the time, so it sounded like a good idea to me.
And Floch said it's the best phone call he's made. "The first time we fired the car with Laurie in the seat, I knew from the huge smile on her face we had her hooked.
"The return has been like riding a bicycle -- once you learn . . . - except for the nitro.
"Honestly, the smell of nitro really bothers me, but where I sit it I don't smell it, so it doesn't matter," she said. "It's all blowing backwards, so luckily I don't have to be the one that has watery eyes and a bloody nose.
"I'm not one of those people who wanted to sit there and breathe it like a lot of the fans do. But I've always had interest in nitro and it's really cool that it's the prostalgia cars too, because they're an up-and-coming class and really popular with the fans.
"Even over in NHRA, they have a nostalgia funny car class. It just seems it's the craze right now. And the fans are loving it. That seems to be the case with everything these days. All the old-time good stuff is coming back."
Cannister is still on a learning curve with the nitro: "What's really neat is you leave from an idle, just like the John Forces out there. It's a lot less violent at the starting line. The alcohol car you bring the RPMs up to 6,000 or better while holding your foot on the clutch and your hand on the brake. To use the expression, 'It's locked and loaded.' So as soon as you stomp your foot down, let go of the brake and clutch, you're flying."
Cannister's first comeback came in 2008, following a five-year hiatus. She and husband Dale had sold their alcohol funny car when they couldn't find a sponsor. She came back and won a championship. So will there be a repeat this time?
She is a winner (eight wins in 11 finals during her alcohol career) and she's behind the wheel of a proven nitro winner. "It's a blast to be back in a car again," she said.