DON’T WAIT FOR GREEN
“We take off on yellow,” David Kinney describes the Mineral Wells ATV Club practice of hitting the gas before the yellow lights on the “Christmas Tree” countdown turn green.
“You have to spin to get momentum, or you’re going to get beat.”
Kinney would know. He has been a member of the club for 30 years and has been dirt drag racing even longer. Kinney explains an alternate strategy: make the bikes as light as possible. This means a certain benefit for many of the competitors registered today: Girls are typically lighter, and Kinney admits, usually have faster reflexes.
It’s midnight and 16-year-old Megan Jones is lining up for the final race of the day at the Washington County Fair. She’s facing her usual rival at the club, Brian Schott, who just turned 60.
The 44-year age difference does not hinder Megan’s inclination towards good-natured trash talk. “We’re best friends but when we pull up to the line? I can’t stand him,” she said.
Age-defying match-ups are common in most dirt drag racing classes, aside from the few classes judged on age or gender like “Power Wheels,” the 5-and-under battery-powered toy ATV racing division.
Like earlier tonight, when Marianna O’Brien raced her daughter Roseanna and won.
Her husband Mark, who built both of the bikes, would have been riding too if not for a recent medical emergency.
Mark explains; “We don’t do it for the money. We do it for the bragging rights – and to scare the hell outta her,” motioning to his wife.
Most families have left for the night. The races are dragging on later than expected due to a delayed tractor pull held simultaneously on the same track.
Steadily, more and more kids have been sent home from the racetrack, obeying their parents’ warnings of impending bedtimes and school in the morning.
Megan has different priorities.
“Whenever I walk into the office [at school], the secretaries just ask, ‘Racing again?’ and they let me sign myself out. Everyone else needs a note from their parents.”
By the time both competitors approach the starting line, the batteries on the announcers’ walkie-talkies have died and the remaining fans are attempting to yell updates to the booth.
Megan’s dad Greg, marked by the hat bearing the words “Megan’s dad,” leans over with one more piece of advice as she rolls to a stop. He paces behind her as a volunteer confirms both racers are in position and triggers the countdown.
“We’re proud of her every day no matter what. We say, ‘if you come back in one piece, we’re happy.’”
The light blinks yellow and the motors start to kick and within a moment, both bikes accelerate behind a plume of smoke and 4 seconds later, the race is over.
Greg whips around to face the remaining spectators and throws both fists into the air.
Schott’s bike had lurched a moment before the green light. Megan had taken off a beat later and won, on a technicality.
Megan circles her bike around and takes off her helmet. Everyone cheers because finally, at midnight, it is time to go home.