TERRE HAUTE — People gathered to pay tribute to a Wabash Valley drag racing legend at Action City Dragway USA this past weekend.
In a two-day stretch that ran the gamut of emotions for drag racing fans and racers alike, the 10th annual Bernie Mann Memorial went on as scheduled despite a bout with the weather.
Even rain that created a one-day delay for the event could not dampen the spirits of those in attendance Sunday.
While the sport of drag racing lost one of its best ambassadors and fierce competitors nearly a decade ago, the memory of the Terre Haute native remains very much alive for those fortunate to have known and competed against the racing standout.
Several members of Mann’s family were in attendance over the weekend. Sons Troy and Thad Mann both competed and Harry Eversole returned to the drag strip to serve as track announcer for the weekend.
Troy Mann acknowledged that his father would have been proud of how the program unfolded. Especially the fact the race named in his honor presented a 10th different winner in as many years that it has been run.
Bill Hamstra of Greencastle carried off the top prize in the Pro Class championship run. Other winners included Lance Stillwell of Terre Haute in Super Pro, Chad Eaton of Paris, Ill., in Sportsman and Chad Isley of Charleston, Ill., in Bikes.
“I think dad would have liked that very much. That’s quite a record to have 10 different winners in as many years,” offered a proud Troy Mann of Hamstra’s win in the race.
Mann spoke briefly on his dad’s stellar career and what he did to help better drag racing at the ET Bracket level.
“He raced throughout the 60s. He got out of it for awhile. Then at the urging of my brother, Harry got back in it and raced even when he was sick. He raced everywhere. Indianapolis, here, Freedom. He loved to race,” said Mann.
Many of the present day racers learned to compete under the watchful eye of Bernie Mann.
“There’s a lot of guys racing out there today that dad taught to race. The competitiveness, the spirit, the sportsmanship that goes with racing. The sport helped to grow with all he did,” said Mann.
Track officials presented the race winner and runner-up with plaques in memory of Mann. As a tribute to his dad, Troy suited up with his dad’s helmet.
“Dad would have appreciated the kindness the officials and racers showed in his memory and what they did for his family,” offered an appreciative Mann.
• • •
Drag Racing Tragedy — Drag racing and motorsports suffered a major loss over the weekend with the tragic death of NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta.
The two-time NHRA champion lost his life in a fiery crash at Englishtown. N.J., during the NHRA Lucas Oil Supernationals on Saturday.
Word of the accident spread throughout the racing community and the lost of the talented racer will be felt at all levels of racing.
Possibly no one on the area racing scene is better prepared to speak on the tragic chain of events and the impact it will have on racing than local racing announcer Nick Agresta.
Agresta learned of the tragic accident while announcing at a special event race at Ohio Valley Dragway near Louisville, Ky. Like so many others, Agresta was saddened and shocked when he heard what had happened.
The loss still weighed heavy on his mind several days later when he was asked to expressed his feelings Monday morning.
“It’s a sad day for the sport. Any time you lose someone in this sport it’s a sad day. It’s a sad, sad deal but maybe something good will come out of it. At least from a safety aspect,” said a solemn Agresta.
As is often the case when an accident of this magnitude hits the sport questions abound. Cries for changes will surface then eventually fade away.
Agresta feels that NHRA will probably look in several directions to determine what happened and what can be done to make the sport safer.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” Agresta said of the never-ending search for speed in drag racing. Speeds that have accelerated to record breaking marks on a regular basis in NHRA’s pro divisions.
“They will probably look at two areas. The chutes and brakes. They may be forced to go to three chutes … look at different brakes,” explained Agresta.
As is the way of racing, the sport will move on. Those involved will accept the dangers to do what they do best. Compete and to fulfill their needs to go fast.
“It’s ever present,” Agresta said of the inherent dangers of racing. “When they go to the race track they know what faces them. The threat is always there. Every time you strap yourself in one of those nitro burning cars you know what can happen.”
“Nitro was never designed to be confined in an internal combustible engine. When they discovered the power it made, well the rest is history,” Agresta said of the monumental discovery years ago.
One that makes for the fan appealing speeds but an element that has generated greater demands on the drivers and the equipment of today.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
TERRE HAUTE — People gathered to pay tribute to a Wabash Valley drag racing legend at Action City Dragway USA this past weekend.
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