Sept. 4, 2006 – They rumble down a scraggly stretch of asphalt to the manicured quarter mile of track – huge high-power machines buffed to a searing shine.
The staccato machinegun blare from their engines is deafening, bullying all other thoughts out of mind. A lock on the front wheels somehow keeps the monstrous hotrods in place while the drivers gun the engines and spin the back tires.
Black rubber burns into plumes of white smoke bursting from underneath cars named "Replacement Killer" and "First Blood." Then, when the tension seems unbearable, the drivers kill the brake and the automobiles become shining blurs, scorching down the track at up to 175 miles-per-hour.
All the postcard peace and tranquility one expects from Caribbean islands like St. Croix disappears on this wind-blown racetrack, wedged between the airport and the landfill.
The Caribbean Drag Racing Association holds races here every few weeks, drawing thousands of fans and gear heads, and competitors from as far away as Trinidad and Miami. The track, leased from the Port Authority, is actually the old landfill road, patched, paved and babied by a handful of dedicated racers who, since 1999, have spent nights and weekends creating a top-notch race community.
On hot summer days these men and women are blowtorching and scraping off the excess rubber from the track.
"These guys come out here and work for free and then pay (entrance fees) to race," said David Francis, public relations director for the St. Croix-based race association.
Before a race they clean the track and wash it in a type of stick-um called Track Bite, which facilitates those plumes of rubbery smoke when the bottoms of $300 racing tires are literally fried off to create the perfect torque for maximum speed.
Vietnam veteran Romeo Henderson and his son, Romie, spent thousands converting their 1988 Camero into the camouflage and American Flag-painted First Blood.
The car burns special racing fuel, which costs $11 per gallon.
The interior is striped clean. There are no glove box or door panels. The single-seater is equipped with special racing gauges, a five-point racing harness seatbelt and a small fire extinguisher.
Gazing over the menacing hood, 18-year-old Romie blazes First Blood down the quarter-mile track at 115 miles-per-hour.
"It's something you can't explain," he said Saturday, preparing for Sunday's big race. "It's just a feeling. Like you're ready to take on the world."
Other St. Croix racers were out testing the track and fixing a fence that vandals had knocked over. A fire truck, kept beside the track in case of a crash, had all its windows knocked in.
These annoyances aside, the track is far better than the days before the track, when the racing association had to petition government officials to close roads for infrequent races.
The slow process frustrated many speed-seekers and led to illegal street races, Francis said.
"Street racing is not drag racing," he said. "We'd love to have the guys who think they are racing on the street come and show it here."
And they do.
Different classes of races allow for the familiar needle-nosed dragster to race on the same track as round-the-town cars. Last year's champion drove a Ford Escape.
"And that's his wife's grocery getter," Francis said.
But this is not a male-dominated sport.
St. Croix's Goldsherdine Bruney, better known as Miss V, is the
Caribbean's fastest woman, Francis said.
Miss V races one of the island's 18 professional class "big cars." These monsters are capable of devouring a quarter-mile in less than 11.99 seconds.
Like a laser, 26-year-old Miss V has charged her long black dragster up to 180 miles-per-hour.
"When the dragster launches, the pressure just drives you back into the seat," she said of the car that blasts from a standstill to 60 in
"The long wheel base makes it easy to control."
The $70,000 dragster is owned by Gary Thomas, who said Miss V has what it takes.
All the cars are checked for compliance with safety regulations:
Brakes, fuel lines, steering wheels, tires all have to meet race guidelines.
The Crucians took all four races in a recent series against Puerto Rico, and Francis said the other racers aren't shy about recent successes.
"We share our licks," he said. "Everybody has their opportunity to be beat up on by the Crucians."
The race association helps organize and raise money for barges to bring cars down from St. Thomas, St. John and Tortola. The trip can cost hundreds of dollars per car.
The next big race is in October – in celebration of Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands Friendship Day.
"This is the real deal. I keep telling people, we are the best-kept secret on St. Croix," Francis said. "You think crack is addictive, try drag racing. Once you start you'll never stop."
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