Tough Brakes

Here's a thought for all you conscientious drivers out there: If you need a parachute to stop your car, you may be exceeding socially acceptable speed limits. Try telling that to a drag racer, a thrill seeker who, on the danger scale, makes Indy and Formula One racers look like Grandma out for a Sunday drive. The unmistakable scent of exhaust fumes and the ever-present lure of disaster will be in the air when the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series kicks off its 2004 season, Friday, March 12, through Sunday, March 14, at Firebird International Raceway, 20000 South Maricopa Road in Chandler. The first of six Pacific Division clashes includes races in a variety of categories -- all with cool, indecipherable names like Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Funny Car, Comp Eliminator, Super Stock, and Super Gas. 2003 Comp Eliminator national champion and Glendale resident Dean Carter heads a field that includes countless speed freaks for whom the fast lane simply isn't fast enough.

Gates open at 7:30 a.m. each day. General admission, including pit pass, is $12 Friday, $24 Saturday or Sunday ($42 for both), and $52 for all three days. Motor heads 12 and younger admitted free. Call 602-268-0200 or see for tickets and a schedule. -- Craig Wallach

On the WaterFront
Nature calls at Tres Rios fest

Only one thing trumps tres rios in the desert -- tres rios con agua. Cherish every droplet at the APS Tres Rios Nature Festival this Saturday, March 13, and Sunday, March 14, at Estrella Mountain Regional Park, 14805 West Vineyard Avenue in Goodyear. Lush riparian habitats of the Salt, Gila and Agua Fria rivers harbor bounteous wildlife, and now folks can see it up close. Choose from dozens of classes in natural history, canoe the river with a naturalist guide, or join one of many tours that embark from the park to explore the southwest Valley. Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Admission is $10 per carload, with an extra fee for some activities. See www.tresriosnaturefestival. com or call 623-204-2130. -- Kim Toms