Rain and top speed racing do not mix well together. That was abundantly clear at the East Coast Timing Association’s (ECTA) inaugural Arkansas 1-mile challenge, where some of the fastest cars in the country compete for bragging rights. Rain and heavy winds brought the action to a halt for the Rydin Racing team and driver Carl Dillon on Friday and Saturday at the former Eaker Air Force base in Blytheville, Arkansas.

Loosing that valuable time proved difficult for the crew of the 1982 Rydin Racing Firebird. “It made it very hard to get a good pass in because the weather kept acting up,” crew member and co-driver Jay Bell, said. “We just had to wait for the wind to die down and once it does, you go. But, by then your car and all your machinery has cooled down.”

Sunday was the only day the team was able to send the car out, so adjustments had to be made in short order. “We only had a short time to fix [the car],” Bell said. “So, there was this constant thrashing to make improvements so we could make a good pass. We still didn’t get a good final run, we can go a lot faster, but we just ran out of time.”

Driver Carl Dillon added, “We weren’t able to use more than three quarters of the potential of the engine. If we could have used everything in the engine, we probably could have taken top speed for the entire event, even though we’re not twin turbo charged like everybody else.”

This was Carl Dillon’s first race behind the wheel of the 1982 Firebird and he wished he could have more seat time during the challenge. “This was my first time driving this car and this is the first time this car has been on track since we rebuilt it. We really wanted to have a couple days of testing before we actually went fast, but [because of weather] we had to roll it all in to one day.”

Bell explained that most of the adjustments made to the car deal with putting the horsepower down to the ground. “We do a lot more with the suspension, dampening the shocks, the springs and playing around with the ride heights,” Bell said. “We also play around with squaring the car up so it goes through the wind straight and has the same amount of wind force on both sides.”

Despite the poor conditions, the adjustments the team made paid off as Dillon was able to get the Firebird up to 203.6mph and take home the win in the Real Street division. The team celebrated the accomplishment by ‘getting in our vehicles and driving home.’

“We all had to get back home so that we could go back to work,” Bell said. “So, we got in our cars and drove home, grinning from ear to ear. It was all we could talk about on the way home.” Even in times of celebration, Dillon remains humble as ever, “It feels great [to win], but I wouldn’t be here without Jay and [team owner] Mark Weiler.”

About 15 years ago, Mark Weiler was looking to experience land speed racing. An official from the ECTA introduced Bell and Weiler at a car show and from there the Rydin Racing team was born. Bell said, “It wasn’t until the following year that we all got together and started racing. It just kind of grew from there. We’ve had some ups and downs, and we’ve had some really good days. Mark has won this challenge, I’ve won it and now Carl has won. Plus, we were able to get Mark into the 300mph club in Bonneville [Salt Flats] in the Rydin Racing streamliner.”

Even with great success, it’s the people that keep the Rydin Racing team going. “We have a really good time,” Bell said. “Our crew is scattered from here to Florida to Colorado and it’s our time to hang out. We get together two to four times per year for the land speed racing, and we also like to compete in other events too.”

“This is the only sport where another racer will share their secrets,” Bell continued. “Drag racing they won’t, round track racing they won’t, any land speed racer can come up to my pit and I’ll give them any part they might need to get their car going and they would do the same for me. Mainly because we’re going up against the clock and not each other.”

The sense of community and the desire to keep things light and fun also helps the crew work well together. For instance, they named the car Lucy, because, “She fights me on everything and can be a handful to work with,” Bell said. “So, I thought, ‘she’s a red-head and a pain in my backside, but I still love her.’ We actually have a car very similar to this one, red and everything and it’s named Ethyl.”

The fun doesn’t stop with just the car however, as Dillon describes his signature headwear, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hat. “It’s just been a trademark for me. I’ve been wearing it as long as I’ve been racing with Mark and Jay,” Dillon joked. “I wear Rafael when I’m in a bad mood and Donatello when we’re going to be racing.”

With the Arkansas 1-mile challenge in the rear-view, it’s time for the team to focus on their next event in Maine, July 10-15. The team estimates it will take about two weeks to get Lucy ready. Bell and Dillon work on the car on nights and weekends and when they’re not racing, they like to spend time with family, go to the beach and go camping. Just don’t expect to see them racing down the interstate.

“My wife used to pick on me a lot and say that I drove slower than her grandma,” Bell joked. “But then she came to a race and saw me run 240mph and slide it sideways at the end, I got out laughing and she said ‘I’ll never say another thing about your driving!’”

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