By Sheena Williams
Killeen Daily Herald
TEMPLE – He felt his heart pounding in his chest as he lined up to the starting line, the night of Aug. 5. Drag race fans eagerly watched as Gary Burgess gripped the steering wheel of his tricked-out 1985 Monte Carlo, waiting to fill his eyes with the green light as his adrenaline pulsed through his veins.
Burgess, a soldier from 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Brigade, 115th Brigade support Battalion's A Company, was up against a black 1991 Mustang with custom intake, exhaust, drag radial tires and a driver from Oklahoma who was bent on winning.
The green light flashed and Burgess floored the gas pedal. His vehicle stalled for mere seconds as his street tires tried to catch up with the fierce momentum of his engine while filling the air with a haze of white smoke and the odor of burnt rubber.
A rush of excitement filled his body as Burgess went hurtling down Little River Dragway's quarter-mile stretch of track, trying to play catch up with his opponent's persistent little Mustang. He lost the race by two seconds but his adversary was disqualified for a false start.
It was his first race of the night and with all the costly modifications, including a new transmission that Burgess just installed, it seemed likely that he would win and beat his old time of 15 seconds. But it was the added power that Burgess predicted before the race, would add to his time and he was right. He said even though his custom parts increase the speed of his car, his vehicle is in need of some radial tires that offer traction specifically for drag racing. So even though his car is too fast for it's own good, Burgess wasn't furious at the results.
"I race because it's really fun and addicting. Knowing that there's no law to how fast I can go, is liberating. When you get behind the wheel and it's your turn up, there's just this adrenaline rush every time," said the father of three. "I do get a little nervous because my car can fishtail if I'm not careful, so I have to make sure that I'm holding the steering wheel stiff when I take off. I have a few things running through my mind about safety and I always wear my seat belt going down the track. I don't have to, but it's the safest way to race."
After his first race, Burgess let his Monte Carlo cool down while he joined his wife and children to watch the blur of other custom rides as they streaked down the drag strip.
The sights and sounds of the races reminded Burgess of childhood drag competitions he attended with his own father. Burgess' unit is scheduled to go to Iraq in February, and when he gets back from his tour, he plans on changing the motor in his car and gutting out the inside of his ride to make it even lighter and faster.
For more information on Little River Dragway, go to www.littleriverdragway.com.