Dragging, Bell Island style

Organizers challenge highway racers to take it to the track

Published on September 21, 2009
Top photo, the driver of a motorcycle lifts his front tire off the pavement as he races past a car during an organized race series on the Bell Island airstrip recently. Bottom photo, Lee Percy pops a wheelie on the Bell Island airstrip during an organized race series recently. - Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

It started with a couple of guys wondering how they could test out the power behind their car and motorcycle. It's become an event fuelled by a love for the smell of burning rubber, high speeds and safety.

A group of drag racing enthusiasts have started a racing association on Bell Island, using the airstrip as an eighth of a mile track.

It started with a couple of guys wondering how they could test out the power behind their car and motorcycle. It's become an event fuelled by a love for the smell of burning rubber, high speeds and safety.

A group of drag racing enthusiasts have started a racing association on Bell Island, using the airstrip as an eighth of a mile track.

It started with Lee Percy and Charlie Crowe discussing after work how they could push their machines to the limit. They got permission from Wabana Mayor Gary Gosine to use the strip, and they had so much fun they decided to get more people involved.

Since then, they've had two full-fledged events under the Island Racing banner, with dozens of drivers tuning their engines for the chance to race against anyone and everyone for bragging rights.

"It's a great starting point right now," said Crowe, who said the plan is to later get permission and develop the facility for quarter-mile racing.

He said the group plans to work with the provincial and federal governments to develop it.

The events started taking off once the men got some allies during an evening meeting at a Canadian Tire.

David Kinsella and Paddy Murphy jumped on board, followed by Jeff Rees and Kelly Denine, and the group organizers were in place.

Over the last two and a half months since then, they've worked on everything from arranging motor sports insurance to detailed facility measurements, says Kinsella.

And, they said, they've been successful in bringing drag racers out of the shadows and dangerous stretches of highway and into a legal, fun-filled venue with as many as 20 observers.

"A couple of 60 or 70 year-old men used to race out (near) Paddy's Pond before any of this," Kinsella said. "They said, 'This is great. I can now go over there on a weekend. I can get up in the morning and if the wife doesn't want to go I can take one of the grandchildren I can race all day and be back for supper.

"He said, 'Not only that, but now it's legal and it's there for me.'"

Percy said as drag racers emerge, the older crowd that was into the sport when it was popular on Bell Island in the '80s are forging friendships with the younger car and bike lovers, all in the safety of a controlled course.

"We can get the street racers off the streets and get 'em onto the track in a closed course, safe environment," he said.

"The one thing I notice about it is the camaraderie. You have these old-school guys from 30 years ago meeting young fellows with their tuner Hondas and stuff."

And while the event might have started from the urge of current enthusiasts to spin their wheels, the event is open to everyone for just $25 a day.

Percy said a lot of people are finding the sport for the first time and having a ball with it.

"St. John's is starving for entertainment," he said.

"Bell Island is only a 20-minute boat ride away. The city is gone wiry with, 'When is the next race?'How can we get into it?'" he said.

Traffic to the island for the last race was so heavy, the ferries were operating on a load-and-go basis to keep up.

For the organizers, its exciting to see the event grow. But Crowe said there are still a lot of racers leaving their burn marks on highways.

He said he challenges them to take their machines to the race track and put them to the test there.

"Take the car off the streets and try it over here," he said.

The next race is Saturday.

For more information contact islandracing@rocketmail.com.

emclean@thetelegram.com