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Nitro drag racers push for top speed

Sun., Aug. 5, 2007

Riley Schoenberger’s neck snapped left to right as yet another drag racer rocketed down the quarter-mile strip at Spokane Raceway Park on Saturday.

One day, he’d like his neck to snap backward as he floors the accelerator, he said. He comes from a drag-racing family – even his grandma does it.

But right now he’s 14 years old, and he does his racing in video games, Schoenberger said.

“We told him he could get in with his uncle this year,” said his mother, Sabrina.

The Schoenbergers drove from Mead to watch dragsters of all classes – from pencil-like, flame-shooting hot rods to pickup trucks that looked like they just drove in off Highway 2 – fly past them at Raceway Park.

The Airway Heights track hosts amateur drag races almost every Friday, but the fast cars visit town three to four times a year, said Rob Schoenberger, Riley’s father.

More than 400 spectators turned out Saturday afternoon for this year’s Summer Nitro Extravaganza. Racing started about 11 a.m., but many people were waiting for the evening’s star event, the nitro dragsters. They’re the ones that shoot flames sideways as they speed down the asphalt.

“Your eyes will vibrate and everything when they go by,” spectator Dave Pitenger said. “It’s great.”

He sat under a sun umbrella with his friends Brandy Kelly and Matt Thomas. They arrived about noon from Post Falls and were prepared to stay late into the night. Last year, when they finally left at 2 a.m., cars were still screaming down the track, Kelly said.

Pitenger said they like to watch the dragsters because they’re fast and roar so loud they hurt the eardrums.

“It’s something out of the ordinary, you know?” he said.

Not for Rob Schoenberger, who drag-raced for about three years before he joined the Navy, he said. Recently, he’s been helping his 65-year-old mother build and tune a monster engine for her 1979 Ford Mustang, while his brother works on a 1990 model.

Sabrina Schoenberger said she’d love to see the fast hot rods race more often in Airway Heights. Spokane County officials are considering buying the 592-acre complex, and a National Hot Rod Association official has said an event could be in the cards if Spokane Raceway Park raises its standards.

But on Saturday, as tires smoked, people drank $5 drinks in the beer garden and Rob Schoenberger chatted about his family’s drag-racing obsession, it was a distant dream.

“I guess it never really goes away,” he said. “Put it on the back burner for a while, do something else – it comes back.”


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