You don't have to have a car to enjoy the thrill of drag racing down a quarter-mile strip of asphalt.
John Robertson Jr. is one of several drivers who drag races in a pick-up truck. Last Sunday, Robertson competed at the Mason-Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown for the 9th Annual Mid-Atlantic MOPAR Meet, a day set aside for owners of Chrysler Corp. vehicles.
The 22-year-old Robertson has only been racing for a short time. After helping his friends on their cars since he was 16, the Westminster native finally got around to racing himself two years ago.
He races the pick-up because that was the only vehicle he had at the time. Last year, he replaced the four-cylinder engine with a much larger V-8.
"I had to make a lot of changes," he said. "I had to make my own motor and transmission mounts. I also had to cut the drive shaft and make my own exhaust system."
The change in motors increased the speed of the pick-up dramatically.
With the previous engine, Robertson turned the quarter-mile in 18.65 seconds. The new power plant, a 360 cubic inch engine, cut more than four seconds off his time. Now he is in the 14.25-second range.
Now Robertson, who is strictly a MOPAR man, is working on a 1979 Dodge Duster that he found in Eldersburg. He paid $300 for it. He has done all the work on the car, including rebuilding the motor, a 440 cubic inch power plant that should put him in the 10- to 11-second range.
"I buy all my parts from Westminster Speed & Sound Shop," said Robertson. "The owner, Mark Miller, is a great help. He is on top of everything, all the new parts, and he suggests which new parts are good for me."
"It can take me either two months or two years," replied the slender young man when asked how long it will take to have the Duster ready. "I'd like to get it ready for next season, maybe even have it out by the end of this year."
Of course, a lot depends on how much time he takes out to help his friends. Robertson has the kind of mechanical talent in demand by fellow drag racers.
By the time the car is finished, Robertson estimates that he will have invested over $15,000 in it. He plans on racing in Class I.
Robertson has always been interested in cars. He graduated from the Carroll County Career and Technology Center and began working on cars for his friends.
He became so involved helping others that he got a late start on racing himself. He has rebuilt transmissions, engines and set-up rears for his friends.
Someday he hopes to have his own business. Now he works for All-Tune & Lube in Westminster.
Robertson said he is pleased with how his truck has performed since he switched motors.
"It is a lot more exciting now that I am going faster," he said. "I don't have a lot of money in it [motor]. It feels good that what I have put together is fast and does so well. I really enjoy it."
Although Robertson is pleased with his new set-up, he has not been as consistent as he would like.
"I have had a tremendous problem spinning too much rubber," he added. "I brought a pair of racing slicks with a softer compound and picked up a full second."
He was running in the 15.30s until Sunday, when the new tires had him in the 14.25 range.
Robertson had consistent 14.4-second practice runs, but went out on the first round when he red-lighted (taking off .007 of a second too soon from the starting line.)
It doesn't look like Robertson will ever have free time. When he completes his Duster, he has a 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner in his garage that he plans to restore.
Later Robertson plans to build an all-tube chassis car with a Dodge Daytona body to run in Class I.