Test drive in '89 hooked Kuhns on racing Hampstead resident at 75-80 Dragway

MOTOR SPORTS

January 17, 1993|By STAN DILLON

In 1989, Rodney Kuhns of Hampstead made his first visit to 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia to try out a 1973 Chevrolet Camaro that he had just purchased. He wanted to see how well the motor he rebuilt would run.

He parked beside Joe Cook, a friend from high school who was a regular at 75-80. At the time, Kuhns did not have any intention of racing regularly. He just wanted to make a couple of test runs with his car.

But Cook told him otherwise. "He kept telling me that once I started, that I would eventually get hooked," said Kuhns. "I didn't believe him. Then I started showing up more and more. Then he kidded me that I would have a trailer next."

It wasn't long before Kuhns was racing more often, working with the car to make it go faster. He began by making the car as light as possible. After removing interior parts, like the back seats, he replaced the stock front wheels with narrow ones. Then he replaced the rear tires with racing slicks.

By the end of the year, Kuhns not only had the car running faster, but also more consistently. He also was hooked, he was now a regular competitor in Class II for cars with elapsed time of 12 seconds or more for the quarter-mile.

It wasn't long before Cook's prediction came true. Kuhns took the car off the road and was hauling it to the track on a trailer. In the summer of 1990, he replaced the 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet motor with a small block 400-cubic-inch one. His elapsed time went from 13.5 seconds to a little under 12 seconds, too fast for Class II. Kuhns tried to slow the car down to keep it above 12 seconds, but he couldn't do it consistently. So he decided to move up to Class I.

Last winter, Kuhns purchased a 1967 Camaro and installed the motor out of the other car. In the switch, he changed his fuel pump and carburization to run on alcohol instead of gasoline to be more competitive.

Kuhns, 25, expected 1992 to be an off-year as he worked the bugs out of the new car. But he got the car to work almost from the first day. By the end of the season, Kuhns placed ninth in points. He went to the semifinals four times and was runner-up once. On Aug. 7, he won his first race, something many drivers never accomplish in a lifetime.

"It was a good feeling knowing you beat everyone there," recalled Kuhns. "I had come real close a couple of times. It felt good to win."

Kuhns was satisfied with his fourth year in racing. "I didn't expect to do that well my first year out in the new car," Kuhns said. "It takes some drivers over a year to get their car working. I always learned things pretty quick."

The season wasn't without its anxious moments. Earlier in the year, Kuhns' rack and pinion on the steering broke as he left the line in the second round. The car made a sharp right into the guard rail. He did some sheet-metal damage but had the car back on the track again a short time later.

He knew he was lucky that it didn't break during the first round when he was doing 132 mph. The steering part was one thing he overlooked after he purchased the car. It was also a part he never would overlook again.

Kuhns is first to admit that he couldn't have accomplished what he has without the help of his brother-in-law, Mike Bowen, and his friend, Dave Smith, both of Westminster.

Kuhns also receives sponsorship help from Don's Trailers of Taneytown, Hill's Home Improvements of Keysville, Pearson's Signs of Hampstead, NAPA Auto Parts of Randallstown and Marty's Firewood & Logging of Millers. Mason-Dixon Racing Supply of Littlestown, Pa., has joined the team for 1993.

Like many in drag racing, Kuhns does all the work himself.

"It is the only way I can afford it is to do it myself," he said. A welder and mechanic in fleet management for Carroll County, Kuhns uses his experience as much off the job as on. He built his own trailer and when he needed headers for the new engine, he made them at a savings of several hundred dollars.

Joe Cook was right. Kuhns got addicted to drag racing. But even Cook didn't predict that Kuhns would postpone his honeymoon a day to go racing the day after his wedding.

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