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Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

Amy Donaldson: Rocky Mountain Raceway offers regular drivers the chance to drag race

By Amy Donaldson, Deseret News

Published: Sun, July 20 4:10 p.m. MDT

 The Young Kia Drag Strip at Rocky Mountain Raceway where we raced on Thursday. Companies can book the strip, and amateurs are allowed to race their own cars 10 times each season.

The Young Kia Drag Strip at Rocky Mountain Raceway where we raced on Thursday. Companies can book the strip, and amateurs are allowed to race their own cars 10 times each season.

(Amy Donaldson)

WEST VALLEY CITY — Dominic “Dom” Toretto might be a fictional character, but his philosophy on racing cars sounds pretty romantic.

“I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” said the character from the movie "The Fast and the Furious." “Nothing else matters. For those 10 seconds or less, I’m free.”

But once I start considering the risk associated with putting the pedal to the metal, it starts to sound a little less appealing.

Which may be why I felt a little trepidation as I stood near the drag racing strip at Rocky Mountain Raceway last Thursday. I’d been invited, along with about 50 other people, to hang out at RMR and race cars on the quarter-mile drag racing strip.

I’m game for just about anything — rock climbing, sky diving, all roller coasters, most types of skiing and anything at all that can be done on or in water. And while my penchant for acquiring speeding tickets may indicate otherwise, racing cars has never been on my wish list.

I drive fast enough to make up for leaving late.

I don’t drive fast enough to feel like I’m flying.

Okay, there was one incident on a snowmobile, in which I zoomed off a jump a little faster than I should have and launched my husband into a wooded area near Yellowstone. And then, a year later, I did dump him into a frigid lake in Alaska, but that, according to experts, was because I was turning the jet ski too slow.

My admiration for those who crave speed does not mean I want to feel the pull of triple digits. I loved “Top Gun” as much as any ’80s child, but unlike the show’s heroes, Maverick and Goose, I do not feel the need, the need for speed.

To really embrace drag racing, one has to be able to let go of fear. You can’t be thinking about blowouts or skidding when the force of the speed pins you to the seat.

I am not a speed demon.

Obligation morphed into excitement, however, as I stood by the track. As I watched business men and women peel out, trying to gain any advantage over each other, my reticence dissolved.

How could I be reluctant with so many people absolutely thrilled for an opportunity to race Ford Mustangs and Dodge Chargers?

I wasn’t alone in noticing the energy of those standing in line on the side of the drag strip. Owner of Rocky Mountain Raceway and CEO of Young Automotive Group Spencer Young was among the eager drivers.

“I made seven passes,” he said. “It’s really fun.”

Nearly 19 years ago, he bought the raceway for several reasons.

“The first reason I bought it is that it was becoming in disrepair,” said the 57-year-old Farmington man. He wanted to preserve Utah’s racing heritage and honor Rocky Mountain Raceway’s history.

He also thought owning RMR fit nicely with his business — car dealerships.

Young said he’s learned a lot from those who race cars for a living and those who race for pleasure.

“I think probably the most important thing I’ve learned from racing and from sponsoring racers is loyalty,” Young said. “The racers and the fans of racing are very loyal.”

Allowing people like to me a taste of racing is another way to enjoy what RMR offers. Businesses can take employees, and it does beat a picnic or potluck.

“A lot of people, especially older people, don’t play sports,” Young said. “And anybody can get in one of those cars and have fun. Everybody I watched was grinning from ear to ear.”

My excitement grew as my turn to race approached. I hoped I’d draw the Mustang, but I ended up in the Dodge Charger. It turned out to be the fastest car of the day.

I felt like I was quick off the line, but I admit to easing up on the gas. Seems I couldn’t leave all of my fear on the sideline.

It was a thrill. My heart raced, although I’m not sure if it was exhilaration or fear. Either way, I did leave the track wondering if I would race faster in a second attempt.

We raced the clock, but we also had a head-to-head competitor. I lined up against attorney Christian Clinger, who knew enough about cars to convince me I should wait for the Dodge.

There are two ways to measure success in drag racing — reaction time and the time it takes to cover the quarter mile. I lost in the head-to-head on both counts, as Clinger was faster off the line and quicker across the finish line. His top speed was 105 miles per hour, while mine was 98 mph. The average speed for us desk jockeys in 314 races down the Young Kia Drag Strip was even more impressive — 107 miles per hour.

In addition to professional races, RMR opens the track to amateurs and companies.

The track’s general manager, Mike Eames, said RMR started offering its quarter-mile track to amateur drag racers in an effort to keep them off city streets.

“The midnight drag program, the whole thing started to get kids off the street who were street racing,” he said. “They can do it here, in a safe environment, just like a normal race.” They offer 10 opportunities to participate in midnight drag racing, which actually starts about 11 p.m. after the other races have finished.

“We generally try to do it every other week, but it depends on our schedule, so sometimes we end up going back-to-back nights and then we’ll go three weeks between races,” Eames said. “Our season runs mid-April to mid-October.”

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Thursday races was watching other people compete. Jeff Taylor, the director of Young Automotive Group University, was like a 10-year-old at Disneyland. In his first race, he drove the Mustang.

“I was over-anticipating a little bit,” the 65-year-old Farmington resident said of jumping the gun at the start. “I was going for zero response time, but I was a little bit fast. I’d rather be too fast than too slow.”

He said he understands why companies would want to have outings at the drag racing strip.

“One of the things I see is everybody having a good time,” he said. “It brings them together and it’s a great team-building exercise.” He admitted it’s unlike any other company party he’s attended or any team-building exercise in which he’s participated.

“This isn’t leaning back and catching each other,” he said laughing.

No, it’s not. This is not your dad’s company picnic. And that may be the most valuable aspect of the experience. What company couldn’t benefit from a bit of competition, some reckless abandon and a bunch of laughter?

Twitter: adonsports

EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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