Trucks, cars all vie for top times at KOI drag race
MOUNT VERNON — Drivers came from all over Ohio to run the 200 foot dirt strip at the Knox County Fairgrounds in Tuesday evening’s KOI Dirt Drag Racing. For the fans, it turned the draft horse track into a gravel and dirt kicking, diesel smoke belching spectacle.
Dave Melfi, an 18-year-old graduate of Johnstown High School, has only one reason to race.
“I just want to go fast,” he said.
There’s nothing fancy about the truck he ran this year.
“This is our old farm truck,” Melfi said. “I live on a farm. We are carrot farmers out in Johnstown. My mom and dad and my grandpa.”
The hay bales in the back of his truck turned out to be useful for more than horses.
“We keep them around all the time,” Melfi said. “It adds a little weight on the back wheels of the truck, so it serves a dual purpose.”
The right weight distribution and a little skill helps.
“You just hold the brake and the gas at the same time and you just let her eat,” Melfi said. “When in doubt, throttle out.”
Floyd Kuenzli, from the little town of Nevada near Bucyrus, brought along his 1996 Ford Probe project car.
“I bought the car off of the original owner,” he said. “I only spent 300 dollars and I told her, ‘One day, it’s going to become a race car.’ She just kind of laughed at me and shook her head, but I’ve made a few upgrades. I added a little horse power, took some weight out of the car and that helped. I added some modified tires for dirt racing.”
His father led him into racing.
“It’s always been a passion of mine,” Kuenzli said. “I grew up around it. I just love doing it. I’m a diesel mechanic. I grew up in the shop with my dad, working on cars.”
Weight distribution and the right touch keeps Kuenzli from slipping on the short track.
“What works for me is you have to have enough RPM to get out of the hole,” Kuenzli explained. “Then, you have to maintain enough wheel speed to keep your RPM up. You’ve got to keep that balance between wheel spin and traction.”
It also helps that he drives a car with front wheel drive, so the weight of the engine is on top of the wheels that are trying to dig for traction in the dirt.
“The track is excellent here,” Kuenzli said. “I like the track. The parking is a little congested, but they’re going to improve on that. I’m hoping to come back next year, when it’s even better.”
Corey Fritz is a Knox County resident and a diesel mechanic for Kokosing Construction who races a Ford F250 that he brought up from Texas two years ago.
“It’s got a fully rebuilt motor,” Fritz said. “I put about 2,500 miles a year on it. I don’t really drive it much, but I try to get out to events like this.”
Wherever else he drives, the Knox County Fair is special to him.
“The people are great,” Fritz said. “Nobody’s fighting. Everyone’s getting along and congratulating each other at the end of the race — win or lose. Everybody’s pretty friendly with each other and fifth place is good enough for me out of 26 drivers in my class.”
Fritz, who was a quarterfinalist in the stock turbo division, has simple words of advice for first time drivers.
“Keep your hands on the wheel,” Fritz said. “The hard part is stopping because there’s not a lot of room. As soon as you get past the finish line, you really have to put on the brakes.”
Wayne Dean, from Pickaway County, is a committed dirt driver, who placed second in the stock turbo division.
“It’s my fourth year coming here to race,” he said. “I love racing up here. I follow KOI everywhere. I probably do 15 or 20 races a year. This one ranks very high. They’ve got a lot of trucks here. This is probably one of the best races. It’s one of my favorites.”
For Dean, it’s just holding on and rolling out, but he also has plenty of help from his two passengers. His daughters — four-year-old Loretta and seven-year-old Layla — add their enthusiasm to their father’s driving.
“They really get a big bang out of it,” he said. “I always ride with them.”
Perhaps Andrew Green from Gambier, who returned with his Jeep from last year to try his hand again, summed up the simple pleasure of dirt drag racing best.
“I just like to play in the dirt,” he said. “It’s something fun to do. It keeps me out of trouble.”