Steve Helmstetter of Woodbine has been around drag racing most of his life. His father was a regular at 75-80 Dragway and took Steve with him as soon as he was old enough to go. The weekly trips to the local track hooked him on racing.
Six years ago when Steve turned 16, his father left racing to spend more time with his business.
Like a lot of people, Helmstetter believed that you had to have a fast car to race. He didn't have a race car, so he didn't follow his father's footsteps into racing. Still, he continued to dream of being able to race in the future.
Helmstetter gradually drifted away from racing. About two years ago, he met Lisa and Bill Fifrick through his job. They kept asking Helmstetter to go to the track with them, but he kept putting it off because he didn't have a fast car to race.
"They told me no car is too slow. That I should go up to the track and run," said Helmstetter. "All I could remember was how fast Dad raced. They told me that things were different now, that they have clocks and handicapping systems that make everything even."
Helmstetter eventually gave in and went to the track with his friends.
"I decided to give it a try, I didn't have anything to lose," he said. "So I went out and got a trophy the first time out."
Helmstetter raced with his friends on a regular basis last year. He started the year in a 1983 Chevrolet Camaro that he had restored.
A short time into the season, Helmstetter blew the engine. With the help of his friends, he took the motor apart and rebuilt it, which was quite an accomplishment for someone who didn't have any mechanical ability before.
Midway through the season, Helmstetter had an opportunity to sell the Camaro. Because the transmission was acting up, he sold the car to an auctioneer.
Racing was now in his blood, so he began racing his personal car, a 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass with a small 260-cubic-inch V-8 engine.
Helmstetter was going slower than before. He went from an elapsed time of 16 seconds to 20 seconds for the quarter-mile. Despite the slower speed, he was having fun and still winning his share of races.
In bracket racing, the faster car is handicapped, giving the slower car a head start. In an ideal situation with both drivers leaving the starting line with a perfect light, the two cars, regardless of their speed and when they leave the starting line, should reach the end in a dead heat. With the slower car, Helmstetter normally left much earlier than his opponent.
"I like the early start," he said. "By the time they get their green light and are allowed to leave, I am way down the track and they've got a long way to catch me. The longer they wait for the green, the farther I look away from them. Hopefully they get over-anxious and red-light or they run out trying to catch me."
Now that he is back in racing, Helmstetter is rebuilding a 1974 Chevrolet pick-up truck that he will use strictly for racing and custom street rod shows.
"I am just starting to restore the truck now," said Helmstetter. "It should be ready next year. Lisa's brother, Roy Mardis, and their dad have been helping me a lot."
Helmstetter will continue racing in the ETK (Trophy Class) this year to gain more experience. When the truck is completed, he plans on eventually moving up to Class II competition and getting down to the serious business of racing for the track title.
Richardson a winner
Tim Richardson of Finksburg was a big winner in the World Karting Association National Series Championships last month. In the WKA World Enduro Championship at Daytona International Speedway, Richardson won the 100 cc. Controlled Lite and the Piston Port Lite Division championships. He placed third in the 100 cc. Controlled Heavy championship.
See a race car
Today, Barry Fitzgerald of Westminster will have his 1994 Chevrolet Cavalier on display in an open house from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Sam's Plaza & Body Shop on 1610 W. Old Liberty Road in Winfield, weather permitting.
Fitzgerald is bringing the car from the Shelby, N.C. garage to put the finishing touches on it before he leaves for Florida Friday.