This fantasy camp gives students ride of a lifetime


December 12, 1993|By STAN DILLON

Have you ever wanted to get behind the wheel of a race car and experience the thrill of driving as fast as you can? Kevin Connor of Westminster did.

He always has enjoyed going fast and found a sprint car school that allowed him to live out his fantasy.

By now, most people have heard of fantasy camps or dream weeks for baseball, football, hockey and basketball. It was only a matter of time for the idea to catch on with motor sports.

This past summer, Greg O'Neill, a former sprint car driver in Baltimore, decided to form his own fantasy camp for race fans at Hagerstown Speedway. It's a one-day class that includes 20 laps behind the wheel of a sprint car.

The class serves two purposes. It can be for people who actually are interested in driving a sprint car one day or for the thrill-seeker who wants to live out his fantasy. Connor falls into the latter category.

He heard about the school from his partner in the auto repair business in Arbutus, Will Branning, who is a friend of O'Neill's.

Speed isn't new to Connor. He has been drag racing for five years. He races at 75-80 whenever time permits in Class I competition. He has a 1971 Chevrolet Camaro that races in the 11.70-second range for the quarter-mile.

O'Neill calls his fantasy camp SPEEDQUEST. The class provides the student a thorough insight into the operation of a sprint car, explaining how the car works, how to drive it and what to expect.

The class walks the track as O'Neill explains where to let off the gas and where to put the accelerator down. After four hours of classroom instruction, the 10-15 students take a turn behind the wheel to put to use what they learned.

Connor couldn't wait to get started. He was strapped into the car and once he was pushed off, he turned the switch. The motor came to life and Connor began to experience a high that no other sport can provide.

"It is the most powerful, incredible feeling of power I ever had," Connor said, describing the first moment of ignition.

After five laps under caution to get the feel of the car, Connor got the green flag to run the remaining 15 laps at a faster but comfortable speed. He turned in the fastest time of the day in the class, easily reaching speeds near 100 mph on the straightaway.

"I wanted to go longer," Connor said. "I caught the sprint-car fever. After the class I was ready to go out and sell all my other equipment and buy a sprint car."

Driving in the sprint-car class wasn't the first time that Connor tried to satisfy his appetite for thrills and excitement.

Last year he entered the annual Junk-Yard Race at the Trail-Way Speedway in Hanover, Pa.

"It was the most fun I ever had. I found a car down the shop, put a $20 starter on it and raced it," he said.

A junk-yard race is an oval track demolition derby. Cars race around the oval trying to put out the other cars, and the last one still moving is the winner.

Between the sprint-car class and the junk-yard race, Connor's interest gradually is turning from drag racing to oval-track racing. He plans to race in the junk-yard race at 1 p.m. today at Trail-Way.

Next year he plans on racing in the street stocks, then in a year or two move up to sprint cars.

"I definitely plan to pursue sprint-car racing. I like my oval-track experience better. There is too much sitting around in drag racing waiting for your next run," Connor said.

SPEEDQUEST is one of many driving schools formed in the past two years ranging in price from $350 to $3,000. The length and scope of the class varies with the cost. But for thrill-seekers, the local school offered by SPEEDQUEST was the best buy at $350.

Gift certificates for the racing class can be obtained by calling (410) 455-9632.

Shepard excels in Arizona

Jeff Shepard of Upperco finished eighth in last Sunday's feature event of the $300,000 Slick 50 Spring Car World Series at Canyon Raceway, north of Phoenix in Peoria, Ariz. The sprint-car series is televised live every Sunday night on The Nashville Network. Shepard also made the feature event the week before.

Future competitions

Trail-Way Speedway near Hanover, Pa., will conduct its annual Junk-Yard Race today at 1 p.m.

Next Saturday, the Monrovia Kart Club will have its annual indoor event in the Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. Race time is 7 p.m.

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