One of the wettest Northwest summers in recent memory is finally ready to heat up.
Or at least, that’s what everyone is hoping.
Typically, August is the premier month in the Northwest when it comes to drag racing. Everything roars into life August long weekend (although technically, this year, it actually starts in July) with the Terrace “Hot August Nights” Drags that coincides with RiverBoat Days, followed by the ¼ mile Houston Drags August 19-21.
Usually, Hot August Nights live up to a “hot” billing, as typically, that is the one weekend on Terrace’s drag racing calendar where they never really have to worry about potential rain-outs. Even drizzle in the morning usually just means that the drag racing will be delayed until the afternoon.
Perhaps as an ominous sign of things to come, the drag racing season lost its first weather battle Canada Day weekend in Kitimat, as for the first time ever, the entire weekend was scrapped because of a rain-out. And as the very wet July comes to a close in 2011, organizers in both Terrace and Houston can’t help but feel rather nervous, as that trend looks perilously like it will continue.
“We are always concerned about safety,” said Chris Colborne, Terrace Drags Executive. “We don’t even want to talk about the weather right now.”
Prince Rupert, for example, has only had three days this entire month where there hasn’t been at least some rainfall (and that was two weeks ago), and Terrace isn’t far off that mark either. And then there’s Houston, one of the Northwest towns along the Bulkley River that has been worried about the rising river for the past two months as the rain just won’t stop.
“This year is going to be a challenge,” said John Lombardi, Houston Drags coordinator. “We’re just hoping and praying the weather cooperates.”
Rain-outs would be very disappointing, but organizers emphasize safety. So if the track is wet, racing just won’t happen. Obviously, they would hate to cancel the upcoming events, but that’s better than the alternative – horrible accidents due to a slippery track.
“It doesn’t have to be sunny, just dry,” said Lombardi.
Colborne added: “Say it’s raining in the morning, but if it dries in the afternoon, we’re racing.”
Still, organizers from both events have their fingers crossed, and they should. Because the events are considered the premier racing events of the season, they bring in big names for the fans.
Terrace, for example, has been bringing a special car to their event for years. For example, one year they brought up a jet track car – a vehicle that can do the 1/8 mile in less than six seconds. Then, the following year, they brought up a wheel-stander to wow the crowd.
This year, two jet vehicles are on the docket, and even more entertaining is the fact that one of the men bringing them to Terrace is aptly named: Kevin Terris. Oh, and he’s from Humboldt, Saskatchewan – the community that came second place to Terrace in Hockeyville voting back in 2009.
“We try to step up this event as much as we can,” said Colborne.
Every season, the Terrace Drags actually hosts four events, but the one at the top of everyone’s list always happens to be Hot August Nights.
“Normal events, we see 60 cars, but for this one, typically, we see 100,” said Colborne. “So we also have more cash prizes.”
Racing is scheduled to take place at the Terrace/Kitimat airport all day Sunday (July 31) and Monday (August 1) with a big party scheduled for those who camp up there Sunday night. Interestingly enough, it will be Prince Rupert’s Triple Bypass playing the party.
But even though it’s “the Terrace Drags,” Colborne is quick to point out that the races are regional events, since competitors primarily come in from the region’s closest towns – Smithers, Kitimat, Rupert, Hazelton, and of course, Houston.
“We do a bbq every year for the racers and their families, and usually, one town in our region hosts it,” said Colborne. “This year, Terrace is hosting.”
Meanwhile, Houston also has something special planned for 2011. Again, weather pending.
The Northwest Door Slammers Association out of Edmonton happen to have cars, known as “Outlaw Racers,” that can pull off a ¼ mile in six seconds flat. It’s a crowd pleaser, and this year, Houston has four of those vehicles coming to town when the Houston Drags take place August 19-21.
“We’re hoping to have them make some entertaining passes,” said Lombardi. “We’ve agreed to bring them out here as headliner of the event.”
It’s the fourth year in a row that Houston is bringing some top-line entertainment for the three-day racing extravaganza, and like Terrace, the event draws competitors from all over northern B.C., and sometimes as far away as Edmonton in one direction, and Ketchikan, Alaska in the other.
With all of those out-of-towners set on racing, and the potential big crowds, again, organizers are looking for about as opposite a rain dance as one can find. It’s become so gloomy looking that the talk is now focused on hoping for just one day of racing – scary, when Houston’s event is scheduled for three days.
Terrace, of course, always schedules in a rain-out weekend, but rarely have they had to make up time from the August long weekend which is traditionally good weather for the region.
“Historically, the weather has held out,” said Colborne. “Riverboat Days always seems to pan out.”
But Houston doesn’t have that luxury or the possibility of rescheduling due to the fact they run the event at the Houston airport, and Lombardi fears a potential repeat of what transpired in 1998 – or even worse.
“1998 was probably the most dismal,” he said. “It pissed down Friday night, then we got a couple hours in Saturday, and then it rained all day Sunday, and we had to refund everyone’s money.
“If it’s a wash-out, well, there’s nothing we can do.”
Strangely enough though, 1998 was an El Nino year, which typically leads to drier and warmer conditions in the Northwest. 2010, for example, the entire province east of Prince Rupert was under an outright campfire ban as barely a drop of rain fell all summer.
But in 2011, La Nina has kept the Northwest in endless spring mode – April showers are now well into month No. 4 of non-stop wetness.
At the end of the day, considering everything that is on the line for drag racing here in the Northwest over the next month, even those who are far from religious are probably looking to the heavens.
“If it’s not dry, it’s not possible,” said Colborne.
Lombardi added: “If we have a rain-out, so be it, but we’re just going to keep hoping the weather goes our way.”
Hot August Nights run all day July 31 and August 1, while the Houston Drags run late Friday afternoon into the evening and all day Saturday and Sunday August 19-21.
~Written by Patrick Witwicki. Photo submitted