Drag racing: 20 years at the Sechelt Airport

Weather put a damper on the Sunshine Coast Drag Racing Associations (SCDRA) 20th anniversary celebrations on Sunday, Aug. 11. 

Club members, with help from the District of Sechelt engineering department, enthusiastically spent close to a week preparing the site for the big event. The site looked fresh with green grass not typical for the August event at the airport. 

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Rain began early Sunday morning and didn’t ease up until close to noon. At 10 a.m. SCDRA president Tony Petula and race marshall Colin Stracker informed racers and a small crowd of spectators that the day would be postponed and the race would be held instead on Saturday, Sept. 7. 

Looking out at the puddle-filled runway as the rain danced off the foggy windshield of a Ford Explorer, Wayne Taylor, one of the founding members of the SCDRA, fondly spoke of the days when he was getting the club up and running. 

He explains the club was formed in part to get a better club rate for racers at Mission Raceway and also to give local enthusiasts an opportunity to race on the Sunshine Coast. Taylor emphasized that not everyone was receptive to the concept of drag racing on the Sunshine Coast. 

Taylor worked closely with Sam Weller at the District of Sechelt and the first race in August 1999 was a huge event with more than 4,000 passionate race fans at the Sechelt Airport. Drag racing was the new event on the Coast! 

In those years, the north side of the airport wasn’t developed and the drag racers exclusively used the south side. Race cars, equipment, concessions, displays and the pits were set up amid the airport hangars. There was even room for a swap meet wherever space permitted. 

Spectator parking was along Hilltop and down Field Road. It was quite the scene. 

Taylor laughed when he remembered the first year when they charged $8 per person and they ran out of change in no time. It was the next year when the admission was increased to $10. The admission remains at $10. 

With the success of the first two years, a decision was made to move the drag racing event to the north side of the runway. Taylor recalls the large number of members providing heavy equipment and hard labour to clear the brush, lay drainage and prepare the area for the current home of the SCDRA. It was a big effort. 

He chuckles as he claims local pilots appreciated the clearing efforts by the SCDRA on the north side of the runway. “Any wildlife near the runway was much more visible and this avoided any potential conflict.” 

Taylor reported the fan favourites were the big power cars brought up from the Lower Mainland and the Pacific Northwest. In those days, $500 wasn’t enough to entice them onto the ferry. There needed to be more incentive, a big payout for the exhibition cars. 

Drag racing on the Sunshine Coast continues to be “grass roots” Taylor said, just like the old days in the smaller communities. It’s not like Mission Raceway where you just show up and race. Heck, you’re racing on a closed runway. 

All the organizing and set up is done by a dedicated group of volunteers. Setting up all the sensors, running cables, coordinating power, checking and double-checking the computer equipment – and hoping nothing fails. 

Then there’s the site preparation: washrooms, mowing, edge trimming and so on. Taylor is impressed with what his fellow members accomplish but is glad he gets to watch from the sidelines. 

In those early days there were 200 members of the club, but today it’s closer to 80 including spouses. 

Taylor is proud of the direction his club has gone: building relationships in the community by supporting the local high school drag racing programs and volunteering in the high school automotive classes. 

He admires how the SCDRA continues to partner with local service groups: Lions Club, Pulling Together paddlers who work with First Nations, and more recently, 858 Skookumchuk Air Cadets. “We’re just helping each other out,” he said. 

Wayne Taylor invites all motorsport enthusiasts to the Sechelt Airport on Sept. 7. He’ll be there watching his team in action.

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