Pictures by Will Whitmer/Fast Times Photography

Mike Wright & Ron Capps

Mike Wright (near) & Jerry Toledo

             Inaugural Arm Drop by the Sea 

   October 24 2009

Once the autumn mist was burnt off the track, a long wait for one of the biggest events of the track’s 54-year history proved to be well worth the wait in the inaugural Arm Drop by the Sea.

            Hosted by local and corporate Napa stores and officials, the event featured heads-up ‘time trials’ and competition with only representatives from local Napa stores seeing the time slips to group a final 16 competitors running in the same e.t. range.

            Starting official Bart Overson took care of the first wave of arm-drop starts in time trials. By Noon, five-time National Champion funny car driver Ron Capps was making his first visit to the Samoa Dragstrip. As cars kept at a quick pace of pre-competition passes, Capps’ first impressions were of a nostalgic nature, both of how heads-up racing was run by generations by before us, and how it’s being kept alive by Napa Auto Parts’ Armdrop program and the Samoa Dragstrip.

             Hundreds filled the stands, packed the parking lot (snaking out to Samoa Blvd itself), a heavy line of spectators on either side of the track to see who got closer to a $2500 cash prize and new Napa tool chest full of new tools. An extra Quick 8 class – defined by the 8 quickest race cars competing – prepared to run for a separate $1000 purse.

            For both prize packages racers had come from Oregon and far south as Chico. Ken Terrell brought out his supercharged and spoiled ’37 Chevy drag coupe specifically for the Quick 8, as did an Anderson racer with a late-‘30s Willys wagon whose pipes buzzed the ears and horsepower literally put a rather addictive vibration in the ground rushing up the track. Local Gordon Sjoquist had healed from Spring’s major back injury to return to the saddle of Gary Howe’s altered-style T. Scott Anderson’s front engine dragster roared up the track for a few straight runs, as did John Stanovich, Jr.’s dragster. Kyle Skillings streaked some passes in his stretched Berretta, Greg Crone prepared to compete in both the Arm Drop and the Quick 8 with two race cars. This is just a sample of the near-200 car turnout (200 was the program’s limit), tech’ed in classes of Green, Pink, Motorcycles and Fast.

             Usually I have times to report, but keeping myself in the dark of times-passed, I can only paint the portrait so well. The crowd stuck around through grey and misty weather, paid back by witnessing some unforgettable “time” passes (again, blind for racers, as varying dial-ins would not be posted in a heads-up competition).

            The main Napa tent held several raffles where Capps greeted fans and signed autographs, the folks of Napa in McKinleyville held raffle for a service cart to benefit the Northcoast Junior Dragsters program, raising nearly $300 in proceeds, other Napa employees kept busy grouping racers in the Napa trailer, arranging the biggest number of racers running similar times. By competition time, track conditions on a day hampered by mist and minimal sunshine concerned Quick 8 contestants, who voted to pull out of competition for safety concerns, donated the prize money to the Samoa Dragstrip.

            Ron Capps arm-dropped the start for pair after pair of contestants, including Mike Pettit, Sr.’s snowmobile, Wally-winner Rod Mikels’ motorcycle, Leonard Daniels’ Super Pro ’68 Camaro, street legals regular Nick Cringle’s ’68 Camaro, and Mike Scoggin’s ’46 Chevy truck, just to name a few of the final 16. Having every racer from the same e.t. range eliminated a need to handicap-start any pair up (i.e., 2-car length head start, etc.), Capps’ arms dropping equally for each lane.

September’s two-day Samoa Championship was closely raced, for amongst some of the same racers now vying for the Arm Drop booty. Along the way, Mike Wright (#3 in Pro) beat Ray Rapp’s ’72 Vega (#2 in Pro), ascending his ’87 Camaro to a best-of-3 Final against Jerry Toledo’s ’70 Maverick (#4 in Pro), winning back-to-back races for the grand prize: $2500 and a Napa tool chest of new tools, then was bound back to San Francisco State U. as the inaugural Arm Drop by the Sea winner.

            Ron Capps had fun throughout, hoping for a 2nd Arm Drop by the Sea so he can return to host it, at the historic Samoa Dragstrip. With this season’s crowd of spectators and out of town racers growing larger, I can’t help but  anticipate what the 2010 season will become.

            In the meanwhile, the awards banquet for the 54th points season is Saturday, Nov. 14 at the Samoa Cookhouse. The points champions have been officially announced, yet more special awards, such as Rookie and Driver of the Year are yet to be crowned, with a video presentation of the packed year behind us, one that is definitely in the books, already covered in highlighter pen ink.

                                                            Tim O’Brien

                                                         Track Announcer