In the zone. That?s how Newton resident Dave Blocher describes how it feels to drive in a dirt race.
He and a handful of other Newton residents are some of the many who take part in this kind of racing Saturday nights at 81 Speedway in Park City.
?You?re very relaxed,? Blocher said about driving, even though he can approach speeds from 80-85 mph. ?Once you put the helmet on, there are no phone calls, no appointments. You are by yourself. It?s like reading a book ? you?re in your own zone. Once the earplugs go in and the helmet comes on, it?s just you and that car.?
Bill Ryan, owner of Those Blasted Signs in Newton, one of Blocher?s sponsors, reinforced that statement. At the races, Ryan, who is on Blocher?s crew, stands at the first turn and sees everyone coming at him, saying they?re all ?in the zone.?
?You couldn?t get their attention if you threw a rock at them,? Ryan said, laughing.
Ryan said Blocher is a good driver.
?He sees a hole opening before the hole opens up,? Ryan said. ?He?s a good driver.?
It?s been Blocher and the car for more than a quarter century, as he?s taken part in dirt racing for that long. However, he hasn?t been able to drive on the track every year, but he did stay involved. Before he raced, he did something else with cars.
?I started in demolition derbies when I was 16 years old, and 81 Speedway came up with a race they called enduro racing (which went for 300 laps),? Blocher said. ?The only time the race stopped was if there was as car on fire or rolled over. If there was a wreck, you drove right by it. Then they mandated roll cages, and that?s when I decided to race and build a racecar.?
Now, years later, Blocher still drives at 81 Speedway, which has a 3/8th-mile track.
?It?s all dirt,? he said, sitting at a North Newton coffee shop sipping on a cuppa Joe.
He said, depending on the division, most heat races are four to six laps, while features (the next level up) range from 10-20 laps. Special race events go 30 to 50 laps.
In addition to enjoying being in the zone, Blocher likes other aspects of dirt racing.
?The competitiveness, the different relationships ? yeah, we compete with each other, but we?re also willing to help one another,? Blocher said. ?I like working on (the cars) and the speed.?
With the cars and speed come loud noises ? the cars aren?t quiet.
?You do bring earplugs,? Blocher said.
Throughout his racing career, Blocher, who works for the Union Pacific Rail?road, has had five cars, although he doesn?t build his own. He drives those in the street stocks division.
In dirt racing, there are seven divisions: mod lights that have high-end Suzuki motorcycle engines, thumpers, hornets, street stocks, modifieds, sprint cars and late models.
?It?s a fabricated frame and body,? Blocher said about street stocks. And the body is aluminum.
His motors vary from 350-410 cubic inches.
?It?s the biggest motor that we can go,? Blocher said, and people drive cars that have from 500 to 700 horsepower. One Blocher used last year had more than 700 horses, Ryan said.
Dirt racing is quite different than drag racing. With drag racing, cars go in a straight line, while with dirt racing, cars go around a track.
?We?re on and off the gas all the time,? Blocher said.
Another feature of dirt racing is the track always is changing.
?The track never stays the same,? Blocher said. ?The track changes all the time. It never stays the same from when you start to when you finish.?
In other words, they?re not only racing against other drivers, they?re racing against the track.
Other kinds of racing at 81 Speedway include motorcycle racing and demolition derbies. In addition, at intermission, kids ?fly out of the stands? and get autographs, Blocher said.
All of this doesn?t just happen through the drivers.
?We can?t do this on our own,? Blocher said. ?We?ve got sponsors that donate their time, donate funding toward the car, they take their time out of their life to work on our racecars. It (also) helps when the family?s involved.?
In addition to Ryan, Blocher has other sponsors, including Catherine Blocher (his wife) with Creation Station in Newton; Steve Johnson with Cornerstone Law in Newton, who sometimes helps at the track; Jim Voth with Buhler Auto; and CJs Performance of Newton.
Blocher also appreciates the fans.
?The fans are phenomenal,? he said. ?Strangers will come up and talk to ya.We?re more than happy to talk to anybody that comes up.?
For all their work, drivers get cash settlements and prizes. Prizes are given at an awards ceremony. Every time they race, drivers accumulate points all season; the person with the most points gets the championship award, Ryan said. During the past three years, Blocher and his crew came in second two times and third one time, just missing the championship.
?That?s (the championship) what everybody goes for ultimately,? Ryan said.
For more information about 81 Speedway and a schedule, visit race81speedway.com.
by Wendy Nugent