It may not be the Indianapolis 500, but those in the know consider it the premier auto racing event in Harford County. It's the second annual Red Ribbon Rally -- where minicar drivers compete in a race to benefit Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Scores of Harford County auto racing buffs are expected to congregate on the grounds of the Bel Air Auto Auction on U.S. 1 next weekend for the race sponsored by the National M-Car Racing Association.
The three-day event will feature 21 miniature cars weighing less than 100 pounds each in a series of races around a huge asphalt parking lot-turned-race track. The track, a series of dips, curves and straightaways, is outlined by 3,500 tires strung together by volunteers from the Bel Air High School football team.
"It's a lot of fun for the drivers and the crowd," says John "J. D." Dorn, who drives the Walter G. Coale Inc. car in the annual event.
Coale, a Harford farm and industrial equipment business, is one of 21 local businesses sponsoring cars in the race. Others include auto dealerships, plumbing supply firms and WXCY-FM radio in Havre de Grace.
M-car races, as they are called, are run by M-Car Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., which will have its own race officials, computer equipment and extra auto parts on hand in Bel Air.
The M-cars themselves are "basically plastic-bodied go-carts," said Mr. Dorn, who is driving in his second race this year. (Last year he finished fifth.) The cars, which measure about 8 feet in length, have 3.5 horsepower engines and reach "thundering speeds" of 30 mph, Mr. Dorn said.
Each participating company must purchase a car from the organizer to compete. Some participants keep the cars; others sell them after the race and donate a portion of the proceeds to MADD.
Norm Ross, vice president of the Harford chapter of MADD, said the organization hopes to raise at least $5,000 in this year's event.
"But we feel the support of these businesses is even more important than the money," he said. "It's been a good experience for us at MADD, to have this interaction with businesses and to gain their support of our objectives."
For Mr. Dorn, it's not the competition so much as the camaraderie that makes the race worthwhile.
"Everybody works together to help one another. Last year a car broke a steering wheel, and we all pitched in to get it ready for the next race," he said. "We just have a good time."
The Red Ribbon Rally, called that because of the red ribbons that are displayed on vehicles by supporters of MADD, begins Friday at 7 p.m. with a pre-race party on the auction grounds.
Racing itself begins Saturday at 10 a.m. with qualifying time trials and heats. Two specialty races -- one for "the ladies" and one for drivers over 55 -- will be held Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday, the semifinals will be held, followed by a consolation race and the championship race. There also are children's events, including a pedal-car race and a tent with children's activities both days.
Various car clubs have been invited to display their full-sized cars on the grounds, and several "souped-up" riding lawn mowers will be on display, Mr. Ross said.
Saturday and Sunday's events are free. Tickets for Friday's pre-race party are $5 and are available at the door.
Further information is available by calling 676-6233.