BUILT TO BE FAST
By Gerry Steele
For The Observer
BAKER CITY It doesnt wear a large S on his chest, and its not quite as fast as a speeding bullet. But Dennis Radfords Poison Viper dragster is one of the fastest pro modified vehicles around.
Radford, who when hes not on the race track owns and operates Radford Trucking Company in Baker City, opened a few eyes over Memorial Day weekend by setting a new track record at the Firebird Raceway in Meridian, Idaho.
Radford rattled off a record-blasting 6.48 seconds on his third qualifying run during the first day of the 25th annual Fox Hunt, the opening stop on the West Coast Pro Mod tour.
We came to Firebird loaded for bear, Radford said. Theyd been whipping me for five years, and they werent going to do it again.
Radfords Poison Viper, which cost about $100,000, toured the strip at 215 mph on his record run, breaking the year-old record of 6.49 set by Danny Rowe.
Radford had streaked down the quarter-mile track in 6.65 and 6.58 seconds on his previous two runs during Saturdays qualifying.
He followed Saturdays runs with runs of 6.62, 6.61 and 6.59 on Sunday to win his first major Pro Modified title.
Radford had run his other two cars the Killer Instinct Dodge and last year, a Barracuda in previous Pro Mod races.
This was my fifth season in Pro Mod, and Id only made it to the finals once before, he said. This year, we decided if we were going to continue this we needed to go out and get the best equipment and people.
He said the weekend at Firebird was definitely memorable for him. In fact, he said, it was almost like a fairy tale.
We had all of our ducks in a row, he said. Everything was just perfect. That almost never happens in racing.
Radford said the weekend events were especially gratifying because of a number of individuals among the spectators at the races.
My parents and several aunts and uncles had come up for my daughter Jennys graduation on Sunday, he said. None of them had seen me race before. For us to win everything in front of them was really neat.
To reach Sundays championship race, Radford had to twirl a little magic off the track as well.
Saturdays qualifying runs ran into the evening. Immediately after taking care of business at Firebird, the family jumped into their cars and drove back to Baker City so Jenny could graduate from Baker High School Sunday afternoon.
That also meant there wouldnt be enough time following graduation to drive back to Meridian for the championship races.
But the Radfords had thought ahead.
Radford, who also has his pilots license, had first thought about chartering a plane to fly to Emmett, Idaho, and then driving the rest of the way.
Instead, he chartered a helicopter from Idaho Helicopter, cleared it with Firebird officials, and was allowed to fly from Baker City right to the infield at the race track.
Radford bought the 2000 Poison Viper from the Billy Harper race team based in Kentucky. Just before the Boise Roadster Show, Radford had the Dodge painted a sparkling shade of blue with blue flames, and the Poison Viper name painted on the door panels.
Virtually every part of the car is handmade, he said. The body is made of carbon fiber, which is lighter than regular fiberglass.
Radford noted that the Pro Modified cars arent always the easiest beasts to tame. Often, he said, the cars can have a mind of their own, much like a bull during a rodeo.
Thats what made Radfords six Memorial Day Weekend runs even more special.
The new record was the second for Radford in May at Firebird. He set his first mark May 18 during the test runs for the 15th annual Chevy Stars & Stripes Gold Cup races.
During one run, Radford uncorked a 6.60-second time at 216 miles per hour. He followed that with a nitrous track record of 6.55 with his 706-inch Charlie Buck powerplant engine.
A family affair
Radford grew up around the southern California drag strips where he fell in love with the sport.
Ive been involved in racing since I was a kid, he said.
I took a leave of absence while I was building my business; then, when I could afford it again, I started dabbling in it again.
Radford said he used to race at the Thunder Mountain Motorsports club events in Baker City. In fact, his wife Judy and kids, Jenny and Nicholas, still do.
But his car has outgrown the local track.
Thunder Mountain is still the same concept, but my cars have gotten faster, he said.
When Radford first began racing in Baker City, he raced mostly in the modified stock class with a hopped-up motor.
In fact, I think I still hold the record in that class, he said.
The next step up was to a tube chassis car with a plastic outer cover.
Jenny now drives the stock Barracuda Duster. Judys Dodge Dart has been certified up to 150 mph.
My family races more than I do, he said. I started going to races and tried to talk my wife into going. But she said she didnt want to go unless she could race.
Their daughter started racing in the family car. Then, last year, as a 17-year-old, she won the Firebird track title for her age group. She also won the Lady Racer of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors.
Their son was runner-up to the Firebird title in the junior division a year ago.
Were racing virtually every weekend, Radford said.
Before the Firebird races, the Radfords had raced in Las Vegas twice earlier this year.
They will return to Firebird for the MoPar races Saturday and Sunday. Judy and Nicholas are the defending champions in those races, and Jenny was runner-up last year.
Theyll race there Saturday and Sunday. Then Sunday evening well bring their cars back to Baker City and load my car on the transport, Radford said.
Monday, he leaves for a race at Cordova, Ill. That will be followed a week later with a race at St. Louis.
Radford said that if he is successful in those races the schedule will become even more hectic. If he does well future races include races in Lancaster, N.Y., and Stanton, Mich., in July; Boise and Norwalk, Ohio, in August; Epic, N.H., Rockingham, N.C., and Buds Creek, Md., in Sept.; and Shreveport, La., in Oct.
And, Radford said, if he can qualifiy in the top eight at St. Louis it could mean an invitation to race at Indianapolis in late August.
Radford said he couldnt do what he does without the help and support of his family, and a solid Team Viper crew.
We can disassemble and reassemble the engine, replacing as many as six pistons, in 56 minutes, he said. Thats me and a crew of four people.
Radford said his main crew chief, his friend for about 10 years, lives in Middleton, Idaho.
I can do all of the things we do, but I cant do them alone because theres so much to do at every race, Radford said.
If everything continues well, we should be one of the fastest cars out there, he said of the upcoming months.