For Gilbert, long winter's wait to test new vehicle is bit of a drag

MOTOR SPORTS

March 06, 1994|By STAN DILLON

The 1994 racing season can't come soon enough for Dan Gilbert. The Westminster driver purchased a dragster toward the end of last year and is eager to get started.

Gilbert purchased his dragster from Elmer Wachter, the owner of Mason-Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown. Because it was near the end of the season, Gilbert was able to race the car only a few times. But it was enough to make him eager to skip the winter months so he could go racing again.

To pass time in the off-season, Gilbert has been working on the car.

"I have the car torn apart now," said Gilbert, 27. "I have it stripped down to the frame and will be repainting it. I want to change the gears, but have been waiting two months for the parts."

Gilbert has been around racing since he was old enough to drive. He became attracted to the sport while watching television. After attending a few races at 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia, he raced his car a couple of times and was hooked.

He began to race regularly with a V-8-powered Chevy Vega that he towed to the track behind his father's pickup. He stopped racing long enough to get married to a woman he met where he worked. Sandy was a perfect match because she also enjoyed drag racing and worked at Mason-Dixon Dragway as a scorekeeper before elapsed times were computerized. Sandy's father was also a drag racer.

Once the Gilberts settled down, they returned to racing four years ago. Gilbert raced a 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS in Class I competition. Although the car is street legal, it is fast enough to run the quarter-mile in the 10.90-second range.

Last year, Gilbert made the move to go even faster when he purchased the dragster.

"For the past three years, I have wanted to go faster and be more consistent," said Gilbert. "But we didn't have the money to go out and buy one until last year, so I ran what I had."

Now the Chevelle will sit on the sidelines, waiting for a new owner while Gilbert adapts to a new car. That takes time, but it didn't take Gilbert long to feel comfortable. He placed in the money in only his second time out.

"It is a big change from a door car that runs in the 10s to a longer open car that runs in the 8s," said Gilbert. "The Chevelle weighs 3,460 pounds where the dragster is almost 2,000 pounds lighter at 1,610 pounds. The dragster came race ready with a 427-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine and I have two backup motors, a 468- and a 477-cubic-inch one.

"Although the car is faster, it is a lot easier to drive," Gilbert said. "It definitely is different. The Chevelle I had a four-speed transmission in it and had to steer it all the way down the track."

As soon as the season begins, Gilbert will have the chassis on his new dragster checked and certified so he can hit the high speeds the car is capable of reaching. He has raced the quarter-mile in 8.70 seconds for over 150 mph. He hopes to knock a second off the time.

The dragster does not have all the electronic equipment that most dragsters have. Right now, all Gilbert has a delay box and believes that as long as he is good enough on the starting line, he won't need all the expensive components.

Gilbert admits, though, that if he travels the Super Comp circuit like he wants to next year, he will need the equipment because the competition is so close.

For now, because of the long hours his job as a painter at Joe Grimm Ford in Eldersburg demands, Gilbert will concentrate on racing locally.

Openers canceled

Snow and cold weather wiped out last weekend's season-openers. Racing for this weekend also has been lost to the weather.

Local drivers in Florida

Not all the action in Florida during Speedweeks takes place at the Daytona International Speedway. Throughout February, a lot short-track action took place. Two local sprint car drivers -- Jeff Shepard of Finksburg and Cris Eash of Woodbine -- had good showings.

Shepard started the tour winning the 30-lap Club All-Star sprint race at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville.

Shepard then hooked up with the World of Outlaws at the St. Augustine Speedway and set fast times on the nation's newest track. But he did not make the feature after a first-lap collision with Steve Kinser.

The next night at St. Augustine, Shepard was 11th in time trials, won the B-Main feature and placed eighth in the A-Main feature. Eash placed 12th. In the WoO finale, Shepard turned in the

seventh-fastest time and was 10th in the 30-lap A-Main. Eash was 14th.

The next week, Shepard joined the Club All-Star sprints in Tampa, Fla., at East Bay Raceway.

With more than 60 cars signed in, Shepard made the feature all four nights in the East Bay Nationals. He placed in the top five in time trials two nights and placed seventh, fourth, fifth and 16th in the four main events. Eash had one top-10 finish.

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