Sports

Enumclaw’s Meeks earns drag racing Rookie of the Year honors

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For years, Enumclaw’s Dana Meeks pushed his adrenaline envelope by bombing down ski slopes at more than 120 mph. The former U.S. Ski Team member stopped flying downhill in 1990.

But the rush for speed lingered.

At 54, the Enumclaw High School graduate has taken up motorcycle racing - pro fuel drag racing. These Harley-Davidson’s aren’t the typical hog. Meeks’ top time this season was 6.888 seconds at 198.17 mph.

“It’s like a missle with handle bars,” Meeks said. “You go from zero to 60 in one second.

“These things are designed to launch at full throttle,” Meeks said. “Remember in Star Wars when the Millenium Falcon goes into hypersapce. It was just like that for real.”

Not your average Harley, in fact, not a Harley at all, but it does meet racing specifications as a 45-degree V-twin. It has a 151 cubic inch engine with 600 horsepower that runs on nitro methane. Fuel mileage isn’t part of a conversation. It burns 1.5 gallons of fuel per run.

Meeks said when he pulls back the throttle - a quarter turn - the thrust lifts the front wheel at the starting line and it doesn’t touch the ground again until about halfway down the quarter-mile run - about 170 mph.

“At 190 mph it’s still accelerating like a rocket,” he said.

So is the loan officer and real estate developer’s racing career. Earlier this month, he was named the All Harley Drag Racing Association (AHDRA) Pro Rookie of the Year.

“That was really exciting,” Meeks said of honor that encompasses all categories. “I was not expecting that.”

High peer praise for a man who recently discovered this form or racing six years ago.

“I didn’t even know this sport existed,” Meeks said. “I never thought about getting back into the competitive arena.”

It was at an NHRA event when Meeks spied his first nitro-fueled motorcycle.

“I thought this is unreal,” he said. “The first time I heard one of these bikes fire up I said this is for me.”

The more he watched and learned, the more he wanted to be a part of it. He started reading AHDRA’s Speed magazine and asked if he could write a couple articles. Editors gave him the nod. From there he made contacts, and this year got on the fast track.

He hooked up with top fuel rider Joey Sternotti, who owns a motorcycle shop in New Jersey and, in his spare time, agreed to be Meeks’ mentor and crew chief. Sternotti provides the riding and mechanical expertise Meeks lacks. He also houses his bike on the East Coast and trailers it to events around the country. Meeks and his wife Carol meet up with Sternotti at the tracks. Carol helps with meals for the pit crew and shoots photographs of each round.

Meeks’ first race was in June in Maryland. In this sport, Meeks explained, riders don’t get to go side-by-side until they earn it. They venture to track after track and build up to the quarter-mile distance in small increments. Meeks earned his license in Woodburn, Ore., on a Saturday in August and Sunday he found himself in the 16-bike field lined up against Sumner veteran Toni Froeling. Froeling got the jump and eventually the win with a 7.109-second, 177-mph pass, but Meeks said he was thrilled to hang close.

Meeks’ best run came in Virginia where his 6.888-second qualifying run placed him eighth in the starting field. But in his second of four final runs, he ran up against national champion Douglas Horne.

“In an effort to get off the starting line first I red-lighted (jumped the gun) and DQ’d, which ended my day,” Meeks said. Horne went on to win the event.

Meeks’ last race for the season was in Rockingham, N.C., this month, where an equipment failure kept him from hitting his goal of 200 mph.

Meeks, who has been riding motorcycles for almost 40 years, said getting used to handling a pro fueler has been a challenge. The rider cannot lean the bike - the bike has to stay vertical. Much like skiing, it takes body English to keep straight down the track.

“To me it’s more thrilling than the ski racing,” Meeks said. “The wind is so phenomenal on my chest it feels like you’re being lifted out of the seat. I’m still at the point where I’m getting used to what 200 mph feels like.”

He said he doesn’t have a baseline of what is normal yet.

“This is still the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.”

Meeks still gets butterflies before each pass - and that’s good.

“The experienced competitors have told me that butterflies are normal,” he said; it’s when the queisiness doesn’t appear that a rider should be worried. Meeks said it’s the same feeling he got before speed skiing. “I guess if there wasn’t some element of danger it wouldn’t be exciting. And it sure is exciting.”

Following up Rookie of the Year honors may be tough, but Meeks is ready.

“I’d like to win some races,” he said.

SIDEBAR

The All Harley Drag Racing Association (AHDRA) sanctions and promotes drag racing events across the United States.

AHDRA celebrated its 30th year of drag racing in 2007. Numerous national records were set on the track during the season, including a Top Fuel record of 225.07 mph. With 16 different classes ranging from 224-mph Top Fuel bikes to the highly competitive ET class, racers have a wide range of competition available.

AHDRA began as a club racing organization in the late ‘70s and continued through the years under different names. All Harley Drag Racing Association/AHDRA became the official licensed name in 1991.

AHDRA has seen phenomenal growth, with racer participation that started with 50-60 entries to events that now range with anywhere from 250 to 450 entries. Motorcycle drag racing fans have increasingly filled the stands, giving AHDRA a range of 5,000 to 12,500 attendees at each event. Each event ticket gives fans direct access to the pits for an up-close look at the motorcycles in competition as well as time to observe and meet the race teams.

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