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Racing will be a real drag tonight

TOP FUEL TUESDAY

— WHAT

: — Drag racing.

WHEN

: Today, gates open at — p.m., — races start at 4.

WHERE

: Southern Oregon Dragway.

FORMAT

: Nitro funny cars and — dragsters from the National Hot Rod Association will make two runs each — down the quarter-mile strip. Also competing will be alcohol dragsters — and funny cars, sportsman door slammers and local bracket — racing cars.

NOTABLE

: Top funny cars and — dragsters will be shooting for 300 mph, a speed no car has ever — accomplished in Oregon. —

For seven years, Jerry Toliver got his racing thrills from blown alcohol hydroplanes. But a near-fatal accident in 1995 prompted him to seek a safer sport.

So Toliver jumped into a nitro funny car, where speeds of 300 mph down a quarter-mile drag strip are not uncommon.

Toliver, from Huntington Beach, Calif., will be one of the participants in tonight's Top Fuel Tuesday at the Southern Oregon Dragway in White City. Toliver and Dale Creasy Jr. of Lansing, Ill., will attempt to reach the coveted 300 mph barrier in their funny cars, while Randy Parks of Lombard, Ill., and David Grubnic of Ennis, Mont., will try to do likewise in their top fuel dragsters.

Also, 20-year-old Cristen Powell will attempt to earn her funny car license by reaching a minimum speed of 270 mph and a minimum elapsed time of 5.85.

Powell, who graduated from Jesuit High School in Portland and is now attending Linfield College in McMinnville, is in the final stage of the licensing process.

Earlier, she met two other requirements. First, she proved she can operate a funny car when she completed a run. Then she met lesser speed and time standards.

Powell is one of only five women to win a top fuel dragster national event.

Along with the racing, a pro wrestling match featuring Greg The Hammer Valentine and Steve The Gigolo Rizzono will take place. Valentine competed in a World Championship Wrestling event in South Dakota Monday night.

Wrestling is not something Toliver did much of when he switched from boats to dragsters.

Toliver broke his back in three places and also fractured his hand. He spent only a week in the hospital, but it took the better part of a year to fully recover.

While on the mend Toliver returned to drag racing, where he had raced his 1966 Chevy II Nova in high school.

Racing on asphalt is definitely safer than racing on water, says Toliver, whose boat disintegrated on Puddingstone Reservoir near Pomona, Calif., after hitting another boat's wake. Asphalt is more forgiving than water, believe it or not. And you don't drown on asphalt.

Toliver had been around the track as a kid watching his uncles -- Art and Jack Crisman -- become stars on the National Hot Rod Association circuit. Both are now in the NHRA Hall of Fame.

Of course, racing a Chevy Nova and a top fuel funny car featuring nearly 7,000 horsepower are hardly the same thing. Toliver vividly remembers his first trip down the track in his fire-breathing machine.

It was an unbelievable rush, says Toliver, who has gone as fast as 309 mph. The acceleration took my breath away.

Toliver's only brush with disaster came earlier this year in Chicago when his car burned up. The fire occurred when the oil line came off, spewing the hot liquid onto the headers of his engine.

It was a scary moment, but other than a little bit of smoke inhalation, I was fine, he said.

Toliver raced in only about half of the NHRA national events last season. This season, with full sponsorship from the World Wrestling Federation, he's competing in all 23 events.

His Firebird car is worth about $250,000 and features an image of WWF star The Undertaker on its side.

Having full sponsorship means you can run the car hard each time out without worrying about blowing an engine, Toliver says. ``And it means having good parts throughout.

Toliver, who currently ranks 11th in the NHRA funny car point standings, is coming off a good performance in Seattle last weekend. He had the low elapsed time of the event (4.985 seconds) but ran into NHRA points leader John Force in the second round and was eliminated.

The NHRA drivers are between tour stops in Seattle and Sonoma, Calif. Tonight's format is what's known as a match race, meaning the drivers are paired against selected opponents beforehand. They are paid simply for showing up.

Medford is a convenient place to stop, but racing in the middle of the week is a lot of extra work for the crew, says Toliver, who is in the midst of a 14-event, 12-day stint.

Although 300 mph passes are rather common these days, no drag racer has ever hit the mark at the White City track or anywhere in Oregon. The Southern Oregon Dragway track record is 278 mph, set by Gary Densham in 1995.

High temperatures and a lack of rubber on the track are detriments to reaching the barrier. Heat robs the engines of oxygen and brings oil to the surface of the track, causing the cars to lose traction. Today's high is projected to be 90 to 95 degrees.

A shortage of rubber could also be a drawback due to the small number of funny cars and top fuel dragsters that will be on the track tonight. The two premier classes of cars tend to leave the most rubber on the track, leaving better traction for the later runs.

Going 300 is always a possibility and it would be an honor to be the first one to make it happen in Oregon, Toliver said. Sooner or later, it's going to happen.

Last year Densham posted the top speed, a relatively modest 260.19 mph with an elapsed time of 5.62.