Bend man aims for a top title in drag racing

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by By MARK MORICAL, The Bend Bulletin

kgw.com

Posted on November 1, 2009 at 12:15 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 10 at 1:00 PM

BEND, Ore. (AP) -- David Regnier glanced into his rearview mirror as he prepared for the start of his race at the Woodburn Dragstrip.

His son and two close friends were scrambling frantically behind his 1966 Chevy Nova, preparing the car for the next round.

"I looked back and said, 'Wow, those guys are really worked up,"' Regnier (pronounced "Renyay") recalls. "So I leaned back, closed my eyes, and thought, 'Wow, what great friends I have."'

Then Regnier, a lifelong Bend resident, surged to the National Hot Rod Association Division Six Race of Champions victory on the quarter-mile track at Woodburn.

The victory in September qualified Regnier, 51, for the National Hot Rod Association Summit Racing Series National Championship, scheduled for Nov. 12-15 in Pomona, Calif. There, he will race against other regional champions from across the United States and Canada.

Regnier won the track championship at Madras Dragstrip in the SuperPro class to advance to the Race of Champions, which included top drag racers from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

His victory at the Race of Champions was a product of his drive to win after falling short of regional championships in 2007 and 2008.

But perhaps more so, Regnier drew motivation from his family and friends, including teammates at the Madras Dragstrip, and close friend John Gramby of Bend, who in early summer was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Regnier dedicated his season to Gramby, and thinking about his ailing friend made his racing pursuits seem small.

"The frame of mind I was in this year was totally different than I've ever been before," Regnier says. "I went at it with a different aspect. I didn't put any pressure on myself."

Regnier won the Madras Track Championship in 2007, and in 2008 he led the SuperPro class late in the season but ended up third after breaking his motor.

Last winter, Regnier says, he spent three full days a week working on his '66 Nova. With the help of friend Tom Stockero, also of Bend, Regnier rebuilt the motor and freshened up every component.

"It was always kind of a dream of mine to build a motor in my own shop," Regnier says. "And that's what we did."

In professional drag racing, the fastest car typically wins. But the National Hot Rod Association Summit Racing Series features a bracket racing format that allows drivers in many types of vehicles -- including dragsters, roadsters, sedans, and coupes -- to compete on an equal basis against each other, according to www.nhra.net.

In Pomona, Regnier will be racing against all dragsters in the SuperPro class on the quarter-mile track. His Nova reaches speeds up to 130 mph, but dragsters in his division can hit 170 mph. To handicap the faster cars and balance the competition, Regnier will start ahead of the cars he races, much as he did in Woodburn during many rounds.

The winner of each round is based on a combination of reaction time, elapsed time, and speed. But the winner must still cross the finish line first without going under what the driver dialed in for his or her predicted elapsed time.

"You put the number on your window of what you think it's going to run, and that's half the battle, trying to predict your ET (elapsed time)," Regnier explains. "Whoever cuts the best light, has the best reaction time and runs closest to the number they posted on their window ... and crosses the finish line first, is the winner."

In other words, the winner must know his or her car extremely well.

Normally, racing a door car -- such as a sedan or a coupe -- against dragsters is a significant disadvantage.

"But in Dave's style of racing, it doesn't matter," Stockero says. "He just really knows his car well, and it's consistent."

As many as 80,000 racers each year participate in the National Hot Rod Association Summit Racing Series.

Regnier is the third Madras Dragstrip driver in the last five years to qualify for Pomona. In the sixth and final round at Woodburn, Regnier defeated Lloyd York, of Kent, Wash., who raced a 1968 Chevy Nova.

"I was so focused on every little movement of the car," Regnier recalls. "I was mechanical. I wasn't human anymore. I was one with the car. It was a cool feeling."

"That's a tough thing to do, and it's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Stockero said. "He was not going to get beat."

Regnier is married and has three grown children and six grandchildren. He began racing at the Madras Dragstrip in 1992. He won the track championship that year in the Sportsmen class, and he did drag races for two more years before switching to motocross racing in the mid-1990s.

He finished in the top 10 in a couple of national motocross events. But after a few crashes left him "busted up pretty bad," as he put it, at age 46 he decided to go back to racing in the National Hot Rod Association in 2006.

"I decided that motorcycles were for young folks," said Regnier. "There was two summers there I didn't race anything and, man, I was miserable. I had to race something."

Regnier says he hopes to get back into the mental zone he found at Woodburn when he races in Pomona for the world title and a $5,000 prize. But he says the support of those close to him -- his family, and his friends at the Madras Dragstrip -- has been the most crucial part of his success.

"As long as I know I've got my friends and my family and my team behind me, I'm going to do well," he says. "Win, lose or draw, I'm going to feel like a champion because of the relationships I've made at the racetrack."

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