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Where the rubber meets the road

Rubber tires begin to smoke as a driver gets ready to race at the Bremerton Raceway - Luciano Marano
Rubber tires begin to smoke as a driver gets ready to race at the Bremerton Raceway
— image credit: Luciano Marano

Summer time in America is a time of tradition, perhaps more so even than the holiday season.

The time-honored family activities such as road trips, baseball games, amusement park visits, days spent at the beach and nights spent at the movies all bring to mind treasured memories from our past and inspire us to create new memories with our own children during that all-too-brief time of year between the last day of school and the first days of autumn.

A day at the races must surely be counted among these traditional summer activities. The independent drag strip is an American staple that is tragically vanishing from around the country too quickly.

Having lost many participants for economic reasons, the sport’s future seems slated to copy that of another vanishing American institution: the drive-in.

One family in Bremerton, however, is working hard to keep the tradition alive and the community is better for it.

Celebrating 54 years of automotive sporting this summer, the Bremerton Raceway continues to draw drivers and spectators to the track to celebrate the American obsession with speed.

“We average about a hundred cars a weekend,” said Track Manager Gordon Howell.

Established in 1959 by the Handlers Racing Association, the Bremerton Raceway has since become a family affair.

“The Handlers were a bunch of guys who got together and wanted to race,” said staff member Michelle Keeler.  “It was a car club. This was a social thing.”

Of the approximately 100 original members, only two remain active at the track: Howell and his wife, secretary-treasurer, Barbara.

“She does all the brain stuff and I do the brawn, I do the manual work,” Gordon laughed.  “She keeps it all going.”

Using friends, volunteers and family members as event staff has allowed Gordon and Barbara to keep the track events running professionally, but feel more personal.

“It’s a family business now,” said Gordon. “Without people helping us, it wouldn’t be possible to keep this going.”

Among the staff are friends, children and even grandchildren, many of them accomplished racers in their own right.

“We put them all to work,” said Gordon.

Far from the rough-and-tumble atmosphere one might expect at a drag strip, the Bremerton Raceway has established itself as a family-oriented activity with prime lane-side bleacher seating, concession options and even an espresso stand.

“We have everything out here,” said Gordon.

Offering several levels of competition, ranging from young racers just entering the sport to sponsored “Super Pro” level drivers, events at the Bremerton Raceway clearly show how much more is involved in the actual sport of drag racing which, to the uninformed, may seem so simple.

“It’s more than just a race to the line,” said Michelle.

“Most people don’t understand what really goes into it,” agreed Gordon.

Cars are graded not only on speed, but also on how close they perform to their expected speeds. Cars are also divided into class by the time it takes them to complete a single mile, ensuring more even competition. Some classes allow electronic enhancements, some do not.

Even the traditional pre-race tire spinning, the always crowd pleasing burnouts, serves more of a purpose than merely showing off.

“When the tires are hot they stick to the track (thus increasing traction),” said Gordon.  “When your tires smoke they’re plenty hot enough, but it’s fun to watch.”

Of course it does ultimately all boil down to cool cars driving really fast, and the diversity of the audience speaks to the sports universal appeal.  From serious gear heads to children, and everyone in between, the excitement at the drag strip remains contagious.

“It’s awesome to see the kids get all excited,” said staff member Ryan Kahler.

Few things are more classic Americana than the drag strip. Roaring engines, cheering fans and sunny days combine for a unique and timeless summer experience.

“I have never met so many good people in my life,” said Gordon of the racing community. “It’s like a second family.”

“Watching loud cars go really fast?” asked Ryan. “I don’t know what could be better than that.”

The Bremerton Raceway is located at 7500 Old Clifton Rd., and hosts races almost every weekend in the summer.

For their latest event schedule or entry requirements, visit their website at www.bremertonraceway.com or email Barbara at info@bremertonraceway.com.

 

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