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U.S. Nationals a spectacle with local flavor

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One of the events that helps to make Indianapolis the motorsports capital of the world is the National Hot Rod Association’s U.S. Nationals, which is conducted every Labor Day Weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Clermont.

In my youth, drag racing was the preferred form of racing for youth. The attraction was probably the fact that you could race the same car that you drove to school. And, you would often race then on isolated stretches of road, late at night.

While it was a little hard on equipment, most of us financed the necessary repairs with part-time jobs or simply conned our parents into paying the bills. Although it was not considered to be “good form,” some of us just raced our parents’ car.

We would disconnect the odometer before making the trip to Cleves, Ohio, for the races. Cleves had the added advantage of offering 3.2 percent beer at 18. Also, they weren’t too fussy about checking IDs.

Before you decide that the U.S. Nationals is simply an advanced form of what I have just described, let me assure that it is not. The top drag cars cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, have large crews and travel with semitrailers full of spare parts and equipment.

The U.S. Nationals begins Wednesday and runs through Sept. 1. The major classifications include Top Fuel Dragsters, Top Fuel Funny Cars, Pro Stocks and Bikes. However, the vast number of competitors that form the base of the competition are the bracket racers. A number of area residents compete in the bracket races.

One of the major advantages to attending the Nationals is the amazing access available to the competitors and their cars. Many of the cars have paint jobs worth thousands of dollars. After all, the cars are seldom damaged. For major gearheads, the ability to see the cars this close is well worth the price of a ticket. Area racers who are signed up to compete in the Nationals are:

Ernie Neal: The elder Neal qualified by his performance against other divisional competitors. Competitors from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky are included in this division. Divisional rankings are computer-based rounds competed and rounds won. He ranked 33rd out of 187 competitors. He will be going to Bowling Green, Kentucky, this weekend.

Neal has qualified well throughout the season. He finished 10th at the Indianapolis opener, 10th at Norwalk, Ohio, 16th at Columbus, Ohio, and ninth at St. Louis. Neal has done a lot of development in converting front-wheel-drive cars to rear-wheel drive. He even has a best engineered car award to his credit.

David Neal: David Neal is Ernie Neal’s son, and he has only been drag racing a few years. However he did a lot of motorcycle racing. He worked on the crew for Derek Scheffel’s sprint car for several years.

The younger Neal was ranked 23rd out 187 divisional competitors. In divisional competition this season, he was ninth in the Indianapolis opener, 20th at Norwalk, Ohio, ninth at Columbus, Ohio, and fifth at St. Louis. In addition, he qualified 12th for the Jegs Allstar program to be contested in Chicago in June.

Clay Arnett (Hartsville): Arnet will be racing his 2014 Cam- aro in the AAA/SA stock class.

David Tincher (Columbus): Tincher wll be racing a GT/CA. This is a Chevrolet Cavalier with an automatic transmission.

Tom and Jerry Mellis (Columbus and Hope): The Mellis Brothers run a rear-  engine dragster in the 8.90-second Super Comp Class.

Tim Milwood (Columbus) and Eric Wilkerson (Seymour): Millwood and Wilkerson have teamed up to enter an 8.90-second SuperComp entry.

Larry Turner (Columbus): Turner has competed in the Nationals the past several years. However, he crashed at Norwalk, Ohio. Turner has pretty well healed, and he has replaced the car. However, he will not be ready to race in time for the U.S. Nationals.

When you’re at the Nationals, be sure to stop by and wish the local guys luck.

Tim McKinney writes a weekly racing column for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.

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