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‘Hoppity hop hop’

Port Orchard
Port Orchard's Ian Theofelis, 8, straps into his Jr. dragster before driving Bremerton's 1/8-mile dragstrip April 8 during the Easter Bunny National race at the Bremerton Raceway.
— image credit: Greg Skinner

Ian Theofelis spent easter just about like any normal eight-year-old boy in Kitsap County, with family and friends playing in the sunshine among many brightly painted and shiny objects.

Those objects were a child’s version of the 300-plus mph cars that grownups race for fun and money - mini dragsters.

Mixed into a day of mostly adult drag racing of great American muscle cars that have been hybridized, built up and blown out for drag racing and top-fuel dragsters, were a dozen children, 8 years old and up, following in the burnout tracks of their parents and personal heroes.

“This is my Easter,” Ian said. “I like it.”

The fastest time crossing the race distance last weekend at the Easter Bunny Nationals was 8.90 seconds by Cameron Calhoun from Covington, the day’s eventual winner. The fastest local run at the the 1/8-mile track came from Bremerton racer Zack Domaier who blasted the track with a 9.0, hitting a top speed of 69.5 mph at the finish line.

Ian ran 46.5 mph on on his first pass. It was only his third time ever mashing the gas pedal to the floor of his purple and yellow half-scale dragster.

Ian had hopes of beating Gig Harbor’s Madison Sailly, 9, who was piloting the dragster on the track next to him when the light dropped through yellow into green. The Jr. sized engine felt underpowered at first, he said. Considering his heroes include the John Race family, which has one woman driving an 8,000-horsepower funny car and her sister test piloting other team cars, Ian didn’t feel too bad.

“My motor held back,” he said convincingly.

In his rookie year, Ian had only driven his Bob Davie built car twice before taking his test-and-tune run Sunday at the Bremerton Raceway. Those runs came the day before. His NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League approved frame and fairing are powered by an eight-horsepower motor from a power washer that has been tuned and built into a 38-horse-power Jr. drag car. Ian’s crossed the 1/8-mile track in 13.098 seconds – about one second from the fasted that regulations allow his age group to go.

“It’s pretty good,” Ian said.

A dragster himself, Ian’s dad, John Theofelis, said he stays out of his son Ian’s way and leaves the coaching to others. As Ian’s biggest fan, Theofelis writes the checks and provides the hugs. The cost of the sport, which is sizable, is irrelevant he said. Drag racing is as good for the kids as any other sport they have options to participate in, he said.

“I’m a happy dad,” Theofelis said. “[Ian] is doing what he loves.”

Jr. drag coach Robert Domaier said that the kids train in their cars on two basic things before they’re let loose on the track – gas and brake. He and Bob Davie work with the kids in the garage as the cars are tuned and worked on. In the shop the Jr. drivers are put into their dragsters and told to watch the hand signals for go. When that happens the driver is to mash the pedal and then as quickly back off and mash the brakes.

“When they get that down, we tell them to go as fast as you want,”  Domaier said.

The influence of video games is also present in the children’s ability to drive the cars with instinct and speed from the beginning. Domaier said his son Zach, who posted Sunday’s fasted local time, hopped into a golf cart at age 2 and parallel parked it between two cars.

“He’s got the fever,” Domaier said.

Ian said he is a fan of the Force family racing team of John Force and his daughters Courtney and Brittany. Between them, his father and his friends at the track he has a lot of influences and people to look up to.

“I have a lot of help,” the newbie Jr. Dragster said.

Domaier said the group of four preteen boys were more a family than a team. His own son Jake has worked his way into a car by working on the crews of older racers like Bremerton brothers T.J and Jake Vickers.

“They love the competition and the adrenaline,” Domaier said.

Ian loves the car he drives, and, for the moment, he is OK with the age restrictions that govern his top speed and tire size. His coach said there is some more work for the youngster in terms of commitment to speed. But, that will come, Domaier said.

When the budding drag racer stomps his gas and heads down the blacktop track, fully restrained in the protective cockpit and dressed in his fire-resistant racing suit, looking down at the track over the wide-nosed air effects on his car’s nose, he sees with a youthful perspective.

“It looks like you vacuum up the race track as you go,” he said.

By Greg Skinner

 

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