The sights, sounds and smells of high-speed motorsports action have drag racing fans looking forward to the Dallesport Drags on Sunday, Aug. 12, at the Columbia Gorge Regional Airport.
Thousands of spectators are expected to watch nearly 100 competitors in the drag races, sponsored by C.H. Urness and Fun Country Sports. Racing begins at 8 a.m. and is expected to conclude at 4 p.m.
The races are one of the highlight events of Neon Cruise weekend, sponsored by the Mid-Columbia Car Club and AutoZone.
Spectator admission is $10 a carload and over 3,000 fans are expected to attend. Drivers pay a $50 entry fee to participate in the race.
This marks the 13th year of the popular drag races, started in 2003 by organizers Tim and Robin Urness of Dallesport.
“We always wanted fans to attend in a carload so that we could use the smallest number of parking spaces,” said Tim Urness. “We’ve never charged admission and it’s always just been a parking fee. Usually, you pay to get through the gate at a race track in addition to paying for parking. Somebody wrote me a letter once in which he said how nice it was to take your whole family to an event that cost a total of just $10.”
The winners of each of the five motorsport classifications—Sportsman (10 seconds or higher), Modified (nine seconds or higher), Pro (eight seconds or higher), Super Pro (under eight seconds) and motorcycles—receive a shiny new trophy. No cash prizes are awarded; drivers simply compete for pride and “fastest car” bragging rights. They will compete side-by-side in a series of bracket elimination rounds until the final two cars in each class race together to determine a champion.
“The Boy Scouts will help with parking and it’s a good fundraising activity for them,” said Tim Urness. “The airport receives part of the parking fee. The Lions Club, including a group led by Mike Kilkenny and Bob Brockman, will organize the concessions. The Dallesport Community Council will be selling ice cream, which is also a good fundraiser. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun and it’s something we all enjoy doing one day a year. A lot of donations have been given to the airport, proceeds from the race, and that’s helped make it a much better place.”
The defending champions of each class, who are expected to return this year, include Alexander Cady, Fred Olsen, Jovil Velaquiz and Lee Hazel of Pine Hollow. Drivers who will be competing on the one-eighth mile drag strip will also include The Dalles residents Randy Keever, Janelle Keever, Shannon Tatom, Mike Brace, Doug Lindley, Chuck Ziegler and Don Budd.
Randy Keever, a 40-year veteran of the sport, will drive his Keever’s Transmission/Peterson Mobile Village sponsored 1967 Chevrolet Camaro in the Super Pro class. The car has a fiberglass body with a 427-cubic-inch, V-8 engine with 700 horsepower and an automatic transmission.
“I believe that we’ve entered the race every year, with either Janelle, my other daughter Lindsay, my son Bailey or myself driving our cars,” said Randy Keever, who won the 2006 Pro class race. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s going to be a great weekend and it’s something that we look forward to every year. We’ll also go to the Neon Cruise Friday night (Aug. 10) and I’ll drive my 1955 Chevy Belair in that event and one of my kids will drive the Camaro there.”
Keever’s daughter, Janelle, will drive a nearly identical looking Rage Graphix & Design 1967 Camaro in the Pro class. Janelle, 24, has entered the race often, and she took second place to Ziegler in 2016. Her Camaro has a 355-cubic-inch, V-8 motor with 500 horsepower. Janelle is hoping to win the Pro class race for the first time ever, which would certainly be a highlight of her racing career. Janelle will be celebrating another milestone event in her life with her wedding to Zach Sandoz, 23, on Aug. 18.
Another woman driver also expected to be a front-runner is Tatom, who has entered the race every year and is hoping to put the pedal to the metal and bring home the first place trophy. Tatom, whose race team pit crew includes her father Russ Brown, will be driving her 1978 Pontiac LeMans in the Pro class. She probably has more experience than most of the drivers because she competes in drag racing on a regular basis.
“It would be nice to win it this year,” said Tatom, who also competes every week at Madras Dragstrip in Sportsman Division events. “I made it to the semifinals last year, which was my best finish ever at Dallesport. I’ve had a pretty fun year at Madras too and it’s been my best season ever.”
Tatom has recorded four wins, one second place and three third place finishes and she’s ranked second (420 points) in the Sportsman Division standings, below Portland’s Ken Green (505). She took first place in the last race at Madras on July 21 when she zoomed down the one-eighth mile track at 86 miles per hour to post an elapsed time (ET) of 7.92 seconds.
“On the same day of the Dallesport Drags, there’s a key points race at Madras and I have a chance to win a $1,000 prize there,” said Tatom. “I’m going to stay here and compete because it’s closer, it’s more fun and it’s a big hometown event. My brother Sean Currie, who died in 2009, raced often at Dallesport in the motorcycle class and our family would always look forward to watching him race. My mom and dad will also be at the race and they’re my number one supporters — I really couldn’t do it without all of my dad’s help.”
Lindley, 73, has entered the Dallesport Drags 10 times out of the 12-year event history. He’s planning on driving his Doug’s Affordable Mufflers 1955 Ford pickup in the race. The pickup has a 429-cubic-inch V-8 engine. Lindley, whose muffler shop is an event sponsor, also owns a 1940 Hudson that he’s competed with in the drag races in previous years.
Like many of the participants, Lindley has also entered drag races at Madras. Brown, Brace, Hazel, Ziegler, Steve Gordon of Pine Hollow, Vickie Farley of The Dalles and Mosier’s Ken Hudson also race occasionally at Madras. “I started out sponsoring the race and then we had lots of people come that were interested in competing and having fun,” said Lindley, who has been involved as a race sponsor every year. “That’s what it’s all about, having fun and giving the community a place to go to enjoy drag racing. I love going to it every year and everyone has fun there.”
Hudson, 73, has entered the race every year except for the 2003 debut event. Hudson will drive his 1957 Chevy, which has a 427-cubic-inch V-8 engine with 475 horsepower. Hudson and Lindley are the oldest drivers in the race.
Hudson says that he would like to compete more often in races, but he can’t because he works throughout the summer in his cherry orchard in Mosier.
“I always enjoy going to the Dallesport Drags,” said Hudson, who lost in the first round of the Pro class eliminations a year ago. “I just never know how well I’m going to do. It’s really a matter of how skillful you are in driving the car. I’ve lost some years in the first round, but I also had a very good year when I won the Pro class trophy in 2011. I enjoy seeing all of the drivers and for some of them, it’s probably the only race that they’ll compete in all year.”
In addition to the numerous local racers entered, a number of people will travel here from throughout the Northwest to compete, including the Johnsguard family from Medford.
Multiple volunteers participate in helping organize, promote and direct race day operations, including Chuck Covert, Eric Urness, Gigi Urness, Tiffanie Urness, Jeff Lepinski, Don Law, John Baker and Mike and Lisa Erland.
Covert is the Flight Base Operator of the Dallesport Airport and is instrumental in making the decommissioned runway available for competition every year.
There were three years, from 2013 to 2015, when the race wasn’t held because the Bonneville Power Administration used the runway for a storage facility.