Fans, racers celebrate first drag races in Center

Photo by Patrick Shea Unbeaten all afternoon, the blue Tesla reportedly hit 118 mph on every race at Leach Airfield on Aug. 20.

CENTER — More than 24 racers registered for the inaugural “Center Drags” competition at Leach Airfield on Aug. 20.

Fans in the grandstands swelled to more than 200 throughout the afternoon, and as Center Mayor and starting gun official Tony Garcia said in passing between races, “It’s going to be a long time before this smile leaves my face.”

Airport Manager Jeb Ellithorpe deserves credit for Garcia’s smile and the positive response from racers, fans, and volunteers who spent more than eight hours setting up and celebrating.

Ellithorpe worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to gain permission, and he was already working with the Center Police Department to keep people from sneaking on the runways to race illegally.

As Center Police Department Officer Adam Fresquez explained during the pre-race meeting with drivers, “We’re under federal regulations right now. We only have from 2 to 6. Another thing we’ll let you guys know is we have a federal radio, so if something is an emergency, we have to stop and pull everyone off so they can land. We can resume after, but we have to let them land first.”

“Don’t try to race them back,” Garcia quipped. The racers laughed.

As it turned out, one of the variations later in the afternoon involved racing the REACH AirMedCare Network helicopter. Although it was hard to time the start, Garcia released the cars as the chopper flew overhead. Also, police cars lined up with registered racers, and then they faced each other. Center’s ambulance beat the fire truck.

The entry fee for adults to watch was $5; free admission for children under 12. Funds raised from selling lunch and concessions went to the Center Police Department, along with more money from a private auction for a shotgun.

The racers generated even more money through registration and “buy-back” fees. Some paid to race against police cars, and others paid to get back into the competition after losing a race.

The winning car for the day was an unbeaten blue Tesla. According to the owner, he said the car ran like clockwork, hitting 118 mph every time.

The other electric entrant in the field was a Rivian truck. The Tesla won every race between the two vehicles, and when asked how far the Rivian was behind the Tesla, the winner said, “I don’t know. I kept my eye on the odometer.”

Old and new muscle cars and trucks screeched to heat up their tires at the starting line and deafened the crowd as they roared down the track spewing clouds of exhaust. But before the first race between the two electric vehicles, fans could only hear “Jump” by Van Halen coming from the Tesla.

Garcia Bro’s Racing deployed a half-dozen crew members to set up the track, work with the racers, and clean up after the fans went home. Brown’s Septic Service donated four portable toilets.

Vendors donated merchandise for the silent auction fundraiser.

Saguache County Sheriff staff and County Commissioner Lynne Thompson joined the crowd, and Center EMS and firefighters managed safety while police officers orchestrated the afternoon of racing.

Fans, racers, and organizers echoed hopes of repeating the event in 2023.