EASTON WAS MORE DISAPPOINTED THAN SCARED IN BAKERSFIELD BOOMER
Steve Easton didn't react the way many thought he would.
Easton, a Nostalgia Funny Car driver on the NHRA's Heritage Series, was racing at the Good Vibrations 60th March Meet when during Friday's Q-2 session, the engine backfired just shy of half-track and less than a second later the classic 1972 Barracuda body on the Robert Godfrey-owned racecar went flying into the air.
Easton wrestled the errant body-less chassis to a stop, emerged from the carnage covered in oil but uninjured.
The Bakersfield incident isn't the first time Easton has met mayhem on the strip, and while an average person would have been frightened, fear wasn't the emotion which gripped him. He was more disappointed than scared.
"It’s probably one of those experiences you never think about actually having to go through," Easton explained. "I’ve been through fires a couple of times, and had it blow a firewall out on me and stuff like that. Driving a Nostalgia car, this wasn't something I thought I would be dealing with. It didn’t really seem like that big of an explosion at the time, it just sort of went pop and then all of a sudden the body slowly started to lift off.
"I think at that moment the disappointment set in pretty much straight away. I knew that was the end of the race for us. We don’t have a spare body or anything. I don’t think anybody takes a spare body to Bakersfield. So, I was really disappointed for the team and everybody that worked really hard all winter to get the car ready."
Easton and the team had tested in the week before the event at Auto Club Famoso Raceway, and although the missed the mark in the first session, there was reason to believe good things were ahead.
"We’d been out there all week testing, made some runs on Wednesday and Thursday, and found some really good performance with the car. That was the second quickest run the car had ever been to the 60-foot and the 330-foot. So it was showing some good potential there."
Easton has relived the run multiple times in his head, and every time there was really no way to diagnose the misfortune ahead of him.
"I felt a little bit of a vibration, what I thought was quivering the tire, so I plugged it into high gear and then it went boom. So I guess that feeling was the rods coming off. It broke a rod bolt on number five rod, and then that took number six rod off as well, and it hit the intake valve on number six, and that put the burst panel out, and that put the body off. So I didn’t really know what to do.
"I mean once the body came off, the flames were shooting right at me, so I kind of think of the only thing to do was hit the fire bottles, and then all the fire extinguisher foam went all over my face, and I couldn’t see. So I then tried to get my visor up when I was stopping, and just tried to hug the centerline so I was as far away from the wall as I could be."
Once the car stopped, Easton unstrapped himself and ran for the wall, and once he stopped running, surveyed the damage.
"I didn’t know what to do. I just decided to leg it over the wall and just sort of got my gear off. I kind of didn’t want to throw everything out on the race track and stuff like that. I didn’t want to take my helmet off in front of everybody just in case I lost my composure when I took the helmet off. So, I kept myself composed pretty well I think, so that was good. It was a very, a very intense experience, that’s for sure."
One aspect of the Heritage Series is many of the teams bring one body to the race, and if it's unrepairable - racing is over pending a miracle.
"I think even Cruz Pedregon doesn’t have a spare body for his Nostalgia car," Easton added. "It’s just a part of this kind of racing, you know. We’re trying to build cars that look like the late ’70’s and race them pretty similar to how they were in the late 70’s. It makes for some pretty exciting racing. It’s not normally as exciting as the body coming off, but it definitely made for an exciting afternoon on Friday."
Easton knows all about the big show of the NHRA, having worked for John Force Racing as a clutch guy, then Tony Pedregon, Johnny West and Rapisarda Autosport over the years. He's also a licensed Pro Modified driver with experience.
But now, Easton can file away his Bakersfield body-shedding experience as a moment he'd just as soon to forget.
"We’re already gluing the body back together," Easton confirmed. "The body should be fixed in probably a week or two, and then we have a spare motor in the trailer, so I’ll just put the spare motor back in it. Our next race is going to be Night of Thunder up in Bandimere Speedway in Denver on May 19. It’s a match race up there that they book us for every year, so that will be our next race for the car."