Jim Luikens' First Anniversary

By Jim Luikens

Jim with Chris Hollingsworth before
the two-seater ride.
Rick Green is co-owner, along with Larry Sullivan, of the Fast News Network, which provides the instant race results and feature content for this web site. At the Martin IHRA National Event last year Rick asked me if I could write a weekly column for him on some aspect of IHRA racing. I agreed to a three-month trial period so that we both could gauge how it was going. The original trial was well received by all and our original deal was expanded to include all of 2004. This is the story of my first year as a feature writer on the IHRA beat.

Rick gave me a rather large palette to work within. My weekly feature has to be a minimum of 1000 words and can be on any aspect of the IHRA universe, whether it is a racer, crew chief, team owner, track operator or IHRA official. I’ve always felt that every person has a “story.” My job is to extract it from them and then convey it to our readers in an interesting way. What I didn’t know is how quickly 1000 words go by when you have a great story to tell. Luckily, Rick didn’t set a maximum word count.

Lagana, Jr. discusses his dragracinggirls.com sponsorship.
The first race I attended in my new role as feature writer was the World Nationals, the biggest event on the IHRA tour. WOW! If you can’t find some good subject material here it is hopeless. The very first interview I did was with Bobby Lagana. I found him to be an interesting person with a great story: namely his long-held desire to record a four second elapsed time while using his ramp truck as a base of operations. The fact that he had finally achieved this goal at the previous race made his story a very timely one.

One year later I am pleased to say that Bobby has largely delivered on the promise that I saw in his eyes and heard in his voice during that interview. He and his team are now consistent qualifiers and a threat to do well at any race. Other stories that came out of that weekend included a feature on Sportsman star Don Graham, one on the Norwalk track itself and one on the eclectic mix of mismatched engines and bodies in Pro Modified eliminator.

I also got a chance to take a ride in a two-seat dragster. I think Top Fuel driver Rick Cooper summed it up best to me earlier this year when he casually remarked, while we were talking about an unrelated incident, that you are either a driver or you are not. As much as I have loved drag racing for the past 40 plus years it only took one pass to convince me that I have no interest in driving a dragster. When I used to race it was in Stock Eliminator and those cars weren’t nearly as hot or confined. Of course, you didn’t have to wear a multi-layer driving suit back then either.

Gary Henry sharing secrets
about the Elijah Morton Pro Stocker.
Other features followed about such interesting and diverse people as Rob Atchison, Pat Donovan, Todd Paton, John Grivins, Truman Fields, Harold Martin, Joe Clifford, Larry O’Brien, Darrell Gwynn, Jeff Solyan, Steve Earwood and Philip & JP Gutierrez. All of these people were exceedingly gracious and very helpful in sharing their stories and time with me.

I also discovered something interesting. Every one of these people were in IHRA racing because they loved it. Like some others, I had perceived IHRA racers as perhaps a half-step behind the racers in that other drag racing sanctioning body. Instead I found an equally intense group of racers who chose to run with the IHRA because it better suited their budget, geographical location or desire to compete in a specific eliminator (such as Top Sportsman) that the other guys didn’t offer.

Over and over I heard that they liked how they were treated “over here” and how happy they were to be a part of the IHRA family. I also discovered that these racers would race with or without a sponsor and with or without a budget. Every one of them were here because they wanted to be and nothing was going to stop them. Many times we hear racers say that they won’t race without a sponsor, but since many IHRA racers don’t have a sponsor that is a moot point with this group of competitors.

Encouraged by the fun that I was having and the new friends that I was making I committed to Rick to continue what I had been doing for the full year of 2004. Rick then asked if I would expand my duties to include writing an event notebook for each national event, which I quickly agreed to do. More features followed about Bruce Litton, Jimmy Rector, Terry McMillen, Jack Todd, Mitch Stott and John Vineyard.

Jim getting the latest news
from Mark Thomas.
The first quarter of 2004 also brought two particularly special stories. One was about the recovering Arnie Beswick and the other was about Rick Lefever and his Mercedes-Benz 500 SL Pro Mod. Arnie had been very reclusive during his recovery but agreed to give me an exclusive interview since we are long time friends and he felt that I could be trusted to tell his story accurately and fairly. Equally memorable was the feature about the LeFever Pro Mod.

To this day I have never seen another race car that is on a par with it. The fact that Rick received a bona fide offer of One Million Dollars to sell it as a piece of art speaks volumes about its construction. I named the feature Absolutely Unbelievable and I still can’t think of a more appropriate title. That the car was a Mercedes-Benz (my favorite brand) made the story even sweeter for me but I would have had the same opinion of it no matter what brand it was based on. Superlative craftsmanship will always be a thing a joy to behold.

Along with my race event notebooks more features followed about Elijah Morton, Mike Kloeber, Mark Thomas, Zach Barklage, Bert Jackson & Chris Johnson, Frank Gugliotta, Ronnie Midyette, Rick Cooper, John McCormack, Mike Janis, Keith Stark, Rick DiStefano, Aaron Polburn and Jeff Ledford. I’ve covered everything from Top Fuel to Junior Dragster and found lots of interesting people and stories along the way.

Many people have made my job easier and I appreciate every one of them very much. Special thanks go to Rick Green and Larry Sullivan for all of their help and support. Special thanks also to Roger Richards for the great photos that he has shot to illustrate my features. I hear now that the new Cool Bus II wheel stander has a passenger seat. Come to think of it, I’ve never ridden in a wheel stander. Sounds like a great story opportunity for my second year.