Speed Demonology

The quarter-mile drag-racing track at Speedworld Raceway Park is sticky from burnt tires, and exhaust fills our lungs like we've been puffin' Pall Malls all day. Cars and motorcycles are lined up in pairs from the beginning of the two-lane blacktop, way back past the chain-link entrance, just like that Race Wars sequence in The Fast and the Furious. The Jettster and I, and her stick-man du jour Pachinko, are out in the island between the starting lines, covering our ears whenever a turbocharged car injected with nitrous oxide for extra speed rolls up and starts revving its engines and burning tires in a plume of smoke.

"The stickier the track, the better the traction," race official Sean Pokorny relates, after a pair of imports hit the gas, leaving us in fumes. "For higher horsepower cars, that is. But for the average Honda, say, sticky is not a good thing. It bogs their engines down and takes friction away from 'em."

It's near 1 a.m. on a humid Saturday eve/Sunday morn, and Pokorny is the cat workin' the tree -- the red-yellow-green racing light -- as literally everybody and his grandpappy is queuing up to drag-race legally. The lineups are insane: crotch-rockets against Scions straight from the dealer; a supercharged Nissan up against the BMW some Scottsdale kid has "borrowed" from dad. Other times, a fire-spitting dragster might go it alone because it's so fast no one wants to look like a pussy beside it.

"Sometimes these guys will race for money, sometimes these guys will race whoever," Pokorny tells us. "Tonight it's just a bunch of people having a good time, taking racing off the street and bringing it into a contained atmosphere."

We're here because our man Ali over at the PHX promo company After 9 Events ( invited us up to check out the scene. After 9 does these race extravaganzas at Speedworld Raceway Park (, way up in Wittmann, with nonstop drag racing until 5 a.m., a bikini contest, a foam party, and a field of show cars as far as the eye can see. The next After 9 blowout is supposed to be in September, and with a beer garden. We'd heard there was gonna be a beer garden at this race, but they must've hidden it well, because we walked that track for four hours and didn't see squat in the way of firewater.

"Kreme, can we take a break?" whines the J-unit, having taken a seat with her boy-toy, skinny Pachinko, whom I let her bring because he seems to know a lot about cars. "I at least need a soda if there's no brew."

"Check out this sick Camaro!" interrupts Pachinko, dancing a jig like a madman. I tell the J-girl to shush while Pachinko, Pokorny and I watch this bad-ass green Camaro approach solo, at first burning its tires, then settling down slightly for Pokorny's signal.

"That's Roger Renfrow in his '67 Camaro," explains Pokorny. "He's got a supercharged engine in it. It's a big block. A very nice car."

Pokorny hits the switch, and soon the Camaro explodes into the distance. Renfrow's time: 8.02 seconds at 176 mph. A fast pass. Remember, all Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious wanted was a good 10-second car.

"Ever have any accidents out here?" I wonder aloud.

"Yeah, we've had cars that hit the walls at 160, cars that have done nine flips at 190. A lot of engines blown, a lot of transmissions broken. With a lot of these guys, the faster they want to go, the more apt things are to happen," says Pokorny.

We decide to take a tour around the rest of the raceway and check things out. Out back behind the track is a 29-foot-long, purple jet-propelled dragster called the Invader (, piloted by Curt Eierdam. According to Eierdam, the Invader is like a ground-hugging Space Shuttle.

"We did one pass, but we hurt the motor, so we're done for the evening," Eierdam says. "We ran 252 mph at six seconds flat for a quarter-mile. It's faster than anything else out here, but it normally runs 290 to 300 in a quarter-mile."

"Jeez, what kind of engine do you have in this thing?" asks the Jettster.

"We use a Pratt and Whitney J-60 engine out of a Sabreliner aircraft," answers Eierdam. "It puts out about 7,000 pounds of thrust, weighs about 1,300 pounds."

"Sounds like Kreme after a big plate of rice and beans," joshes Jett. "What's it like being in that baby when it goes off?"

"When we launch, it's like someone stepping on your chest," replies Eierdam. "When you go through to the other end and pull the chutes, you've gone from a positive six Gs to a negative four Gs, and it's like someone's kicking you in the butt. A thrill ride, from start to finish."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons