EVANSTON — The drag racing season at Hypoxia Dragway is over but not before shaking things up just a little.
Throughout the summer, cars and drivers from all over the Intermountain West have made their way each month to Hypoxia Dragway to try their hand at the highest dragstrip in America, more than 6,600 feet. Each time they found the track evolving.
To begin the season, workers had improved the asphalt for better grip. They added a return lane so drivers didn’t have to drive back down the strip to get to the pits. Computers got better and the timing system improved. One race was missed as 10,000-pound concrete barriers were placed between the strip and the return lane, enhancing safety and speeding up the process between races.
Drivers worked on their cars to make improvements with each pass and new cars continued to show up at the track to enjoy a laid-back style of drag racing where fun is key.
It didn’t take long for 15-year-old Payton Woodward to set a new track record; taking advantage of cooler weather and better track conditions, she was able to power her dragster through the 1/8-mile in just 4.9 seconds at 137 miles per hour.
“I am so happy,” said Woodward. “When my dad told me over the radio after the run I just started screaming.”
Woodward is following in both her father’s and mother’s footsteps behind the wheel. She started driving a junior dragster when she was younger but moved up into the full-sized dragster last season.
Jamie Denbesten brought his 1970 Camaro Z28 back to the strip Saturday and was tearing up the 1/8-mile track in about 5:19 and nearly 140 mph. His alcohol-burning monster has a 540-cubic inch supercharged Chevrolet engine that he says he shifts “by the seat of my pants.”
He bought the car in 1993 and started racing it in 1994. The car had sat in a field for about 10 years. He has continually made improvements over the years. The Camaro is not only fast, it performs amazing wheel stands and rattles the stands when it roars by.
A new car at the race Saturday is owned by Stephen Rohatsch of Salt Lake. He brought his 1948 Austin Dorset A40. This Austin has come a long way from its inline four-cylinder, 40-horsepower roots.
The Austin has a 468-cubic inch big block Chevrolet engine and a turbo 400 automatic transmission and a Dana 50 rear end with 4:10 gears. It burned up the 1/8-mile track in 7:56 seconds at 92 mph.
The custom paint job was on the car when Rohatsch purchased it in Washington state. He was told there is a skull hidden in the paint somewhere but he hasn’t found it. Telling others about the skull entices them to stare blankly at the paint job for long periods of time.
Jeff and Cindy Skaarland, from Rock Springs, believe the family that races together, stays together. Jeff races a 2011 5.0 supercharged Mustang and Cindy races a 2012 C3 AMG Mercedes Benz that is also supercharged.
Both cars had plenty of power from the factory. The Mercedes came with a 6.2 liter V-8 engine which produced about 450 horsepower. Not enough for this racing family so when they learned you could get after market performance parts for the Mercedes, the purchased a supercharger and upped the ante.
The Mustang was also supercharged and they installed long tube headers and a high stall converter. The cars push somewhere between 570 to 580 horsepower. The Mustang is usually a little quicker than the Mercedes, but not by much. Jeff ran a 7.3 at 96 miles per hour and Cindy ran a 7.4 at 95 miles per hour.
“I love the exhilaration of racing,” Cindy said, “right off the line. I still get shaky after a race.”
Nick Mortenson is another regular at Hypoxia Dragway. He brings his 1964-½ Mustang which he has owned for about four years. The black Mustang has a Ford 350-cubic inch Windsor engine with Cleveland engine heads bolted up to a high stall C-6 Ford transmission with a trans brake.
His time was a little slower Saturday because he broke a fan belt and wasn’t getting all the electrical power he needed for a smooth run. Still, he ran a 7:45 at 91 miles per hour.
Mortenson made the last day at Hypoxia a bit more interesting when he donated some prize money for the bracket racers.
Brooke Gillian shared driving duties with her father, who helped build her 1970 Nova. Gillian’s Nova is known for amazing wheel stands and fast times but it did get a little squirrelly Saturday and crossed the center line during one race. Gillian handled the car well and got it under control but admitted it scared her a little.
Lucas Hatch, a 12-year-old boy, rolled onto the dragstrip in his junior dragster and did an amazing job, even doing well in the bracket races going up against the adults. His dragster hit speeds of up to 58 miles per hour.
The last couple of races, Hypoxia has enjoyed the announcing skills of Sonia Hatch-Eves. She arrived early to learn all she could about the drivers and their cars to make the announcements more personal and interesting to spectators and participants.
Next season promises to be even better and the crews are already making plans for improvements. Don’t miss it!