DOWN AND DIRTY
By Gerry Steele
For The Observer
Racers Darrel Poulter and Travis Turner like to drive as fast as they can, as quickly as they can.
Through thick, soupy mud.
They, along with about a dozen other drivers from Eastern Oregon, Washington and Idaho, attempted to do just that Saturday at a Mud Bogg race at Thunder Mountain Motorsports Association's Pleasant Valley race track.
Middleton driver tops field
Poulter, a hardware engineering scientist for Hewlett-Packard, hails from Middleton, Idaho. He has dominated the Modified Mud class in recent races. A year ago he completed the race at the Thunder Mountain track in about four seconds. Saturday, Poulter's first run was 4.77 seconds; his second approximately nine seconds.
On his first run, Poulter's modified "Bad Dawg" Toyota Land Cruiser appeared to be gliding over the surface of the mud and water, barely touching the ground. Equipped with paddle tires each appeared to have several tiny wings around the outer edge and a 541-cubic-inch big block Chevrolet engine, Poulter literally flew over the course.
Blaine Blockman of La Grande rode with Poulter, and was thrilled with the experience.
"It was the best ride of my life," he said. "I would stay muddy for a week if I could do it again."
Poulter, who has raced for about 15 years, said he competes both in mud bog and sand drag competitions.
"I average between six and eight races a season," he said.
He doesn't put a severe limit on the area where he races.
"We've drawn about an 8-hour arc as to where we travel to race," he said, referring to a map. "We've raced in Portland and as far as Silver Springs on the other side of Idaho.
"Now, they've built a really nice track in Mountain Home and have about four races planned there this year," Poulter said.
Because of his success and the division he races in Poulter doesn't get as much competition as he might like.
"Not many people hear about these races. I didn't have anybody to race against last year. I'm hoping there are some guys here to race this year," he said.
Poulter said he enjoys racing in the Pro Mud division, but at times also will "jump up a division to the open class."
Saturday's victory was nothing new for Poulter.
"This year I haven't lost yet," he said. "The last couple of years I've been doing pretty good. I've been placing in the top three for quite a few years."
Turner looks for advantage
Turner, owner of Powder River Construction, a finish carpentry business in Kuna, Idaho, says he looks for any advantage he can find when racing like deflated tires on his 1979 Chevy pickup.
"It's an advantage to deflate my tires because more tread hits the ground," he said. "I also run on wider tires because I like more surface hitting the ground. I look for as much advantage as I can."
Turner said he usually races on seven pounds per tire.
"Experts say it's best to run between five and 10 pounds, so I run on about seven," he said.
Turner said he enjoys just about everything about racing, and cars.
"I love every aspect of it," he said. "If it's got a motor, I love it."
Turner said the Baker race is one of his favorites.
"This is the money pit right here," he said. "This is the most expensive event I've been to, but it offers the largest payout too."
Turner actually is still a racing rookie, this being just his second season of competition.
"I've been doing things with cars for about 10 years, but I just started racing two years ago," he said. "And, without the help of several sponsors I wouldn't be where I am."
Turner said that besides the deflated tires, he looks for other ways to modify his pickup, including using an automatic transmission with the rig's 468-cubic-inch engine.
"If you have to shift while you're in the mud, it's not going to work," he said. "With the automatic I don't have to shift.
"Momentum is the name of the game. You have to take off fast, and keep it going fast."
He summed up his formula for mud bogs: "Weight, as little as possible; horsepower, the more the better; and traction, the more the better. That's what gets you through."
Like Poulter, who is a good friend, Turner is having a successful season.
"This is shaping up to be my best year yet," he said.
"Last year I competed in four or five races all season. This year I've already done four or five races, and we haven't even reached July and August yet."
A couple of years ago Turner was ready to trade his truck off and was looking at purchasing a race car.
"I had the truck up for sale a couple of years ago," he said. "Now the for sale signs are off, and I'm having a successful season.
"I go with Darrel," he said, nodding in the direction of Poulter. "We kind of hang out together."
Turner said he competes in the Modified Mud and open classes.
"I run in the open class where I can use nitrous fuel, and the pro mud where you can't," he said.
Turner said he has defeated Poulter just once, during last year's first race when Poulter broke a power steering belt.
"He's won all the other times," Turner said.
Turner was defeated by Mick Dougharity by 0.2 seconds in his first run Saturday, 17.4 to 17.64 seconds. Turner rebounded to win his second run in 16.21 seconds.
Both Turner and Dougharity trailed Poulter in the modified mud class.
Not as many racers as expected attended Saturday's races under sunny, warm temperatures. There were about a dozen drivers participating in three mud pits.
Terry Schumacher, Thunder Mountain president, said he was hoping for a better showing.
"We were hoping to have about 50 drivers, but it didn't turn out to be that good of a day," he said.
The next racing action at the Thunder Mountain track is a circle track race beginning at 1 p.m. June 29.