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Friday night at the Drags makes its return

Between 70 and 80 cars are expected to participate in tonight's season-opener

WHITE CITY - Racing promoter John Skinner created Friday Night at the Drags as a way to stabilize local drag racing and hopefully pull a few wayward kids from the streets to the drag strip.

"I wanted the kids to know they could race out here pretty much every Friday night in the summer," Skinner says. "I wanted it to be like a bowling alley or a golf course in the sense that it would be open every weekend. And I wanted people to know they could take almost any car off the street and race it."

A steady diet of events fueled the dragway's most successful season a year ago, a season in which Skinner broke into the black for the first time since taking over the strip in 1999.

The opening Friday Night at the Drags makes its 2002 debut tonight beginning at 6 at the quarter-mile strip, the first of 18 such events between now and October, with 30 events scheduled overall.

Between 70 and 80 cars are expected to participate tonight.

Skinner huddled with local anti-drug organizations such as Southern Oregon Drug Awareness (S.O.D.A.) and Drug Awareness Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) in the off-season in an effort to better connect with young people and lure them to the drag strip instead of a two-lane country road to rev their engines, smoke their tires and zip over the pavement.

One idea Skinner hopes to implement later this season are matchups between kids and cops, something other drag strips have had great success with.

The local track also features a high school division that has met with some success in the past.

"We're trying to make this a place where young people want to hang out on a Friday night, if not to race then to watch," says Skinner, who will have a new high-tech public address system installed within the next few weeks.

Bracket racing as well as heads-up racing will be held each week in several categories of cars, including the popular door-slammers.

The opening points race is set for May 11. Major events include the Hot Rod Gasser Nationals (June 1-2 and Sept. 28-29); Great Balls of Fire (July 3); and the National Hot Rod Association District 6 Points Race (Sept. 19-21). Veteran Pat Austin wowed the crowd last season with his victory in the funny car class.

The Jackson County Sports Park venue will also play host on June 14 to many of the cars that will partake in Medford Cruise Night one day later.

The track has a new manager in Steve Schulz, although he's hardly new to the scene. Schulz was part of the group that got the track built a quarter-century ago, and he's raced or worked at the track most every year since.

Schulz was a tech inspector last season.

"I'm real excited about this season - I think it's going to be the best yet," Schulz says. "John (Skinner) has made improvements every year since he took over the track. The new P.A. system is going to be a nice addition.

"We've got one of the smoothest tracks in the Northwest, and we've got the longest shutdown area."

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com

WHAT

: Dragway season-opener.

WHERE

: Southern OregonDragway, off Highway 140 and Kershaw Road, White City.

ADMISSION

: Drivers $20,spectators $5 (12-and-under free).

MORE INFORMATION

: 826-3477.