SONOMA, California -- Matt Scranton remembers street racing as a teenager, but not for the excitement of 100-mph speeds on city streets. Danger stands out most in his mind.
“At that age I felt pretty invincible,” said Scranton, now a 31-year-old competitor on the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series. “I always thought nothing would happen to me, but I was very lucky. What I used to do was pretty dangerous. I could have ruined my life.”
Instead of becoming a rebel racer, Scranton chose another road and it has led him to the top spot in the NHRA Sport Compact Series piloting his Turbonetics Toyota Celica. Scranton became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier in the series earlier this year and has won eight consecutive events in the Pro V-8 class. He will be on hand at Infineon Raceway Sept. 7-8 for the Tuned by Matrix GR Motorsports NHRA Sport Compact Nationals, presented by Wallstreet.com. The series features 10 events for 2002 and a television package with ESPN2, as well as cash and contingency awards of nearly $160,000 at each event.
But more important than any victory is reaching the young audience that follows this series, which features the best in high-performance and import cars like Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Mazda. Scranton desperately wants to reach as many young drivers as he can and let them know that street racing and sideshows aren’t the way to go.
“I was at a car show in Tacoma (Wash.) and there were about 20,000 kids there and the question I kept getting was, ‘How do I get to be like you.’” Scranton said. “I told them they have to take it to the track. If you have a local track with a weekly program, that’s where you can get started. I always tell them to stay away from street racing and sideshows. That can only lead to trouble, but it’s hard to understand that when you are young.”
Scranton isn’t alone. Most every competitor on the circuit feels the same way, including Stephan Papadakis, a two-time winner in the Modified division this year and current points leader in his AEM Honda Civic.
“I used to get a ton of tickets for street racing. It wasn’t worth it,” Papadakis said. “This is a great series to shoot for if you want to get into racing, and you can’t get here by racing on the streets. It just isn’t worth it. If you have a program at your local track, get into that. It’s much safer and more fun.”
State Senator Don Perata (D-Alameda) recently brought sideshows to the forefront by authoring a bill that, if made into law, would place serious penalties on sideshows, including car impounding of 30 days and fees totaling around $1,500.
"The National Hot Rod Association was created 51 years ago for a very specific purpose," said Tom Compton, president of the NHRA. "The NHRA was founded to get young people away from illegal street racing and into safer, supervised environments where they can enjoy the truly competitive sport of drag racing. That is exactly what we want to give the new, young hot-rodders of today through the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series. There has always been a connection between young people and cars and specifically, fast cars. Now they have a great place to showcase their passion for racing."
Daniel Granado, an 18-year-old from Sunnyvale, was a frequent street racer in his 1994 Honda Civic, which features 180 horsepower. But he’s changed his ways and now frequents Infineon Raceway’s “Wednesday Night Drags.” The program allows people to drag race provided their car passes a simple technical inspection. Within the weekly event is a program called “Top the Cops,” which allows teen drivers the thrill of racing law enforcement officers. “Wednesday Night Drags” runs weekly from March-November.
“It not worth it to street race,” Granado said. “Between getting caught and all the tickets, it’s a hassle. I go to the track now to race, and it’s better because you get a time slip so you can see how you did. It’s all about improving your time. They also announce your name on the loudspeaker, which is cool. Plus, you don’t have to worry about running away.”
Scranton said the series, in its second year under the prestigious NHRA banner, should give young import drag racers a goal to shoot for.
“I managed to focus on a dream and I stuck with it but it wouldn’t have happened if I was a street racer all my life,” Scranton said. “If you’re serious about being a racer, you can reach this series but it’s going to take hard work. Even if you’re not serious, it’s better to race on the track and not the street.”
Another element that helps target the young demographic is the Sportsman Division, which is featured at every event on the NHRA schedule. This division allows novices the opportunity to race down the drag strip in competition during a Sport Compact National event. It’s another way to help draw kids off the street and give them a taste of legal import drag racing.
One person who will be in the Sportsman Division is Roberto Pineda, a 26-year-old from Daly City who owns a Nissan truck. “I want to see how my truck will do against the other cars, and it’s the best place I can go without getting into trouble. I just love racing, so this is a great way to go.”
WHAT: Tuned by Matrix GR Motorsports Sport Compact Nationals, presented by Wallstreet.com. It is the eighth stop on the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series schedule for 2002.
WHEN: Sept. 7-8, Infineon Raceway.
SCHEDULE: Gates open at 8 a.m. on Saturday; 9 a.m. on Sunday. Qualifying and time trials on Saturday. Final time trials on Sunday morning, followed by final eliminations at 1 p.m.
MORE INFORMATION: Call 800-870-RACE or visit www.infineonraceway.com.