Jim Fleming of Union Bridge has been working on his car since the racing season ended a month ago.
Most drag racers don't have an off-season, especially if they are preparing, like Fleming, for the earlynational events that begin in March.
He drives his 1987 Pontiac Firebird in two classes: the Super Comp class in NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) competition and the Top Sportsman Class in IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) competition.
The Super Comp class is the swiftest of the three Super categories. Super Comp entries include gas-burning dragsters, roadsters and American production cars, all running on a common 8.90-second standard. Heads-up pro starts are used, with no break-out (below 8.90 seconds) allowed. The minimum car weight is 1,350 pounds.
Fleming also likes to race fast enough to qualify for the Door Slamming contests, where the eight fastest full-bodied cars square off against each other with the winner taking all the prize money, normally in the neighborhood of $500.
Fleming's car may look like a Firebird on the outside, but the similarity is only skin deep. The chassis is made by Willie Rolls in California, one of the top three chassis makers in dragracing.
The tube-chassis car was first purchased by a pro-racer for the pro-stock division. The car has run in the 7:40-second range. Fleming purchased the car in November of 1989 from the second owner.
He added a 509-cubic-inch bow-tie block engine. The Chevrolet steel block, similar to what tractor-pullers use, is equipped with Ladd Chevrolet heads.
The engine gets the most horsepower from the heads, and Fleming has more than $5,000 invested in them alone. But he insist there are many drivers who have spent more.
Fleming spent mostof 1991 getting the bugs out of the car. The powerful 875-horsepowerengine puts a lot of stress on the drive components.
"If you havea car like mine, the transmission takes a lot of beating," said Fleming.
"The torque converter and transmission can't take it all. I have to rebuild it all after 50 runs."
Like so many teen-agers in the mid-1960s, Fleming started racing on the street. They raced to seewho had the fastest car.
Realizing the danger of street racing, Fleming began racing at 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia, Frederick County. He had two cars and raced in the stock class automatic and E-stock class. Fleming was the class record-holder for two years in four divisions at the track.
In 1974, Fleming put racing aside and started a family. Today, they are a vital part of his racing. Sons Justin, 18, Jake, 15, and wife Joyce spend most weekends with him.
"They help me a lot," said Fleming. "They keep an eye on my car, check my tires and do a lot of work. With a car going as fast as mine, I can't take any chances."
Justin has raced some in Class II and is building a 1969 Chevelle with a 454-cubic-inch motor for next year.
In 1980, Fleming returned to racing. He raced for other car owners until 1987, when he purchased a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro for himself.
He has raced in mostly Super Pro Competition, Sportsman and Quick 8's and has won in all of them.
Fleming does not race for points. He races wherethe money is.
He races all over the Middle Atlantic area, at places like Maple Grove, Pa., Englishtown, N.J., U.S. 13 in Delaware and Maryland International in Charles County, as well as the nearby tracks, 75-80 and Mason-Dixon in Washington County.
The last two weeks of the season, Fleming raced a 1968 Camaro of Norman Morris, who lives in New Windsor.
Fleming will spend the next two months going over every inch of the car. His block is being checked out by Jeff Baines of County Engine in Frederick, and Fleming is working on sponsors to go with Advanced Performance of Frederick.
And he won't be sitting idle when he isn't working on the car.
"I practice all the time," said the 41-year-old self-employed roofing contractor. "I have my own practice tree and work with it all the time. It keeps me sharp.
"Drag racing is reaction time and consistency. If you have pretty good reaction time, and your car is consistently on the number (the estimated time a drive dials in before each race), you are going to winyour share of races. It is a competitive game, there is no doubt about it."
Fleming wants to win a national event, and says this couldbe his year.
"I don't want to win a lot, just a couple of big ones," he said.