MONROVIA - When 75-80 Dragway celebrates its 30th anniversary Saturday, many Carroll countians can take pleasure in having played a large part in its success.
Located in this Frederick County community, not far from the Carroll line, 75-80 is the oldest operating drag strip in Maryland. The track operates Saturdays from the second weekend in March to the second weekend in November and on Friday nights during the summer.
To help celebrate its birthday, 75-80 has scheduled some special events in addition to regular drag racing in all classes.
There will be a "Wild Smokey Burn-Out" contest in which funny cars will vie to produce the longest burnout with the most smoke, as racers spin their tires in water to heat and clean them for maximum traction. One of the participants will be Carroll's Carney Fryfogle in his funny car, Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Also on tap is a "door slammer" competition, a race for full-body cars that attain speeds as high as the rail dragsters.
Many changes have taken place in the 30 years since the track was started. Like many things, drag racing was simple then -- an all-out grudge race, and whoever had the most powerful car won.
"When we first started racing, we started the cars with a flagman who stood down on the track," said owner Bill Wilcom, the driving force behind 75-80 Dragway. "At the end of the quarter-mile strip stood another flagman who signaled who won by waving a flag in the lane of the car that reached the finish line first.
"When we started, it was the man with the money who won," said Wilcom, 53. "If you had the fastest car, you were going to win. Today, there is more emphasis on driving skill."
While drag racing has become more complex, the classes of cars have been simplified. The large number of classes of yesteryear has been reduced to just three today: Class I, 11.99 seconds and faster; Class II, 12.00 seconds and slower; and a beginner class.
Wilcom has brought the track into the computer age, with an automatic digital scoreboard and a complete printout for the competitors after each run.
Another change in drag racing has been the greater involvement of women. In the early days, women were not allowed in the pits. Now, not only can you find women walking through the pits, they work on the cars, and many are drivers.
Veronica Chasen, 23, of Taneytown, has been competing for two years in a 1983 Chevrolet Cavalier.
"You don't have to be a male to enjoy the sport," she said. Her husband, Patrick, also competes every week.
If the women aren't out on the track, they are active in the pits helping their spouse or boyfriend.
Larie Taylor of Taneytown not only helps husband, Chuck, race at the track, she works hard to obtain sponsors.
Through the many changes in the sport, Wilcom has been a steady presence at the track since he opened it 30 years ago.
"I only missed one day, but there have been a couple of days I had to get out of bed to get there," he said.
Jake Lenhart, one of the first flagmen, also has been with the track 30 years.
The strip occupies part of 500 acres owned by the Wilcom family. Wilcom's three brothers help out on weekends, especially during special events, but the operation of the track is left in his hands while the others handle the family farming business. His wife, Betty, handles the concessions, which have the reputation of serving the best food around.
Central to the drag strip's success is the family atmosphere that Wilcom and his family have promoted at the track.
"We like to make it a place for the whole family, for mom, pop and the kids," said Wilcom. "I wish I had a dime for every person who met a spouse here."
Chuck Taylor is one of the most popular Carroll drivers at 75-80. Besides being a top competitor, he builds engines and parts for other drivers and is always lending a helping hand.
His wife does a lot of work to promote drag racing and the speedway and is unofficial public relations person for the Carroll racing contingent.
Wilcom said he believes the sport of drag racing is one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in America and has so many participants because it is spirited competition that is open to all. Anyone can race, he said.
After passing a safety inspection, a car that is strictly stock can go up against a racer and have a chance under drag racing's handicapping system in which driver skill and reaction times become important.
Without a doubt, Wilcom is the engine that makes 75-80 go, and drivers from Carroll speak highly of the man.
"Bill is good, honest and fair to everyone," said Roger Jorss of Westminster.
Chuck Taylor agrees.
"The nicest thing about Bill is that he takes care of his racers. He takes time and listens to them."
Besides being host to excellent competition, the track meets or exceeds safety standards set by the National Hot Rod Association.
"The track has a good reputation," said Jorss, who has been racing at 75-80 for as long as it has been operating.
Racers from 75-80, including many Carroll countians, have won bracket finals at the nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., five out of 15 times and taken several seconds in the last 17 years. In bracket races, top drivers from drag strips throughout the region compete as a team against similar drivers from other tracks.
For beginners like Corey Hess of Taneytown and Steve Cascio of New Windsor and veterans like Larry Hoff and Len Davis of Westminster and Russell Barefoot of Mount Airy, the 75-80 Dragway will always occupy a warm place in their hearts.
Wilcom said he is committed to maintaining racing at 75-80 for at least several years.
"We'll be here another four to five years," said Wilcom, who admits he would not know what to do if he didn't have the raceway.
From that point, Wilcom said he will take it five years at a time.
That is good news for Carroll countians and everyone involved in drag racing.
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990