Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Monster mash

Interlake Dragway brings in the heavy artillery

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GRAVEDIGGER and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle dazzled the crowd last Saturday night at Interlake Dragway.

This pair of behemoths from the popular Monster Jam series laid down a pile of rubber, made high-speed passes down the drag strip and when it got dark, Grave Digger jumped over a pile of old cars.

Oh yeah, and there was also a pair of jet-powered funny cars that shoot flames out the back.

Wow, I'm pretty sure you're angry you missed that.

Trust me -- it wasn't the heat. All this stuff happened and more. No worries though. Despite a new name, our local track hasn't abandoned its drag-racing roots -- the Monster Jam event was orchestrated to tempt folks who may not regularly attend the drag races to come out and see what all the noise is about.

If the massive crowd on hand was any indication, it's fair to say it was a raging success.

Interlake Dragway (formerly Gimli Dragway) is located just a few minutes west of Gimli. Earlier this year, Darryl Wruck and his wife, Brandy, submitted the winning bid to operate the track. They also opted to change the name. Although the RM of Gimli maintains ownership of the drag strip and the surrounding property, the couple is in charge of all aspects of this year's racing season. The Wrucks are seasoned drag racers. Even their teenage son, Justin, is an accomplished racer, so it's a sure bet the track is in good hands.

Forgive me for not catching up with Darryl or Brandy last Saturday night for a few quotes, but they were literally running all night long. The Wrucks weren't the only ones running at a high rate of speed. In addition to the monster-truck superstars, there was a pair of jet-powered funny cars that run on canola oil. These high-powered green machines shoot flames and release thunderous booms into the night. They also tear down the tack at more than 250 kilometres per hour.

There were also a number of local speedsters on hand for exhibition runs and races, including world champion Kenny Lang in his ridiculously fast and extremely loud Camaro; Frank Safonos with his killer Willys Batmobile; and a number of long, loud and smoky burnouts by Ryan Gobeil in his late-model Mustang. Ryan and his parents, Mike and Laurie, own and operate Eliminator R/C, a popular hobby store that specializes in high-powered miniature remote-controlled vehicles. Watching Ryan burn the tires off his high-powered Mustang was a total riot. All the local racers who entertained the crowd between the main events did a stellar job. Dale Hickey also did a great job serving as the "ringmaster" for the night and he was flanked by veteran Monster Jam and Red River Co-op Speedway announcer Darren Pallen. The dynamic duo kept things moving at a carnival-like pace all night long.

The big attraction was definitely the monster trucks. Every kid in attendance, and there were lots of them, was running around in circles screaming as they anxiously waited for Grave Digger and the Turtle truck to make another appearance.

On the surface, racing monster trucks on a drag strip sounded a bit like watching me jog, but when these hulking machines spin those massive tires on asphalt, it just feels right. Randy Brown was driving my personal favourite -- Grave Digger. Brown made the trip here all the way from Kill Devil Hills, N.C. In addition to coming from the coolest-sounding place on Earth, Brown, 40, is a veteran monster-truck driver who has competed around the world.

So what exactly is Grave Digger?

"It's a 1950 Chevrolet panel van, it's got a 540-cubic-inch Merlin motor, it makes about 1,600 horsepower and weighs about 9,600 pounds," offers Brown with a grin.

This purpose-built behemoth was designed to drive over cars and fly through the air in stadiums and arenas. So what the heck was it doing at Interlake Dragway doing smoky burnouts and making high-speed passes?

"We started doing this last April on the IHRA drag-racing circuit and it has been a huge hit with the fans," said Brown. "We keep getting faster and faster. Tonight we had them up over 80 mph."

Other than limiting the suspension with straps that stop the shocks from fully extending and the application of bald tires, the big rigs run down the track in pretty much the same setup they use for Monster Jam events.

Brown has already surmised he has the technology to go much faster and intends to modify a monster truck that will be showcased exclusively at drag strips throughout North America. He hinted a big truck like Grave Digger will be reaching speeds in excess of 160 km/h in the near future.

"To incorporate monster trucks into drag racing is just a great fit, the fans love it and we're having a great time."

-- -- --

At the conclusion of the night, Brown proceeded to jump over a trio of dilapidated vehicles that were set up in between the drag strip's racing lanes. He managed to get some serious air and all the kids in the crowd, even the really tall ones with beards, went totally wild.

It might be a while before Monster Jam returns to Interlake Dragway, but there are still a number of awesome drag-racing events planned throughout the remainder of the summer and into the fall.

The next big weekend at Interlake Dragway is Aug. 4 and 5 when the high-powered Mid Canada Wild Bunch bring their exciting team back to Gimli.

For more information and the complete race schedule, check them out at www.interlakedragway.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2012 F8

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