After the COVID-19 crisis extended the offseason by an extra two months, the 2020 PDRA season finally kicked off with the East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech at GALOT Motorsports Park in Benson, North Carolina.
While spectators weren’t allowed to attend due to state and local guidelines limiting public gatherings, the PDRA’s racers and teams showed up in full force to start the 2020 championship season.
Frequent rain showers and thunderstorms tested the patience of racers and track officials alike, while the resulting humidity tested tuners and equipment when the track went hot.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #157, the Interview Issue, in June of 2020.]
Sure, there were winners and No. 1 qualifiers and other accomplishments celebrated by various individuals. But the event was a victory for the series as a whole, as it marked the beginning of a season in a year that started with uncertainty and concern. The race was a sign that racing is back – a good sign indeed for everyone involved, for those who use racing as an escape from the real world and for those whose livelihood depends on it.
“It’s awesome to be back out,” said JR Carr (pictured above), who debuted a brand-new 2020 Camaro in Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock. “Everybody’s been going crazy. This deal, it’s really sad for a lot of people. A lot of people losing businesses and stuff, and our hearts go out to them. It looks like things are getting better and turning around. This [race] has definitely lifted people’s spirits, and a lot of times, that’s all you need. We’ll take that too.”
For Scott Bathurst, who owns Classic Graphix, the official merchandise provider of the PDRA, it was an easy decision to bring his trailer to the East Coast Nationals. Even though there would be no fans to buy his products, Bathurst knew he had to be there.
“This is like a family deal,” Bathurst said. “We want to support the PDRA no matter what. Whether we make money or not is not so big, it’s just being back with the racing family and getting back out here.”
The Classic Graphix PDRA merchandise trailer was open Friday and Saturday during the event. It was staffed by Bathurst and his son, Chris, who both flew in from California to work the event, along with friend Robert Rogers in from New York. They sold event T-shirts, as well as new T-shirts, jackets and other items updated for the 2020 season.
“With it being the first race of the year, all the drivers and teams come up and want to get the new swag that’s available,” Bathurst said. “We’ll do well enough with the teams that it’s worthwhile coming.”
But as Bathurst reiterated, his trip to the East Coast Nationals wasn’t so much about selling T-shirts. It was about seeing the friends he’s made since 2014 when he started producing merchandise for the inaugural PDRA season.
“It’s really like a family out here,” Bathurst said. “The only time we see these people is at the track. I’m just glad to be back out here.”
The family aspect of racing was also evident in the pits all weekend. It’s what brought Brunson Grothus out from Dewitt, Iowa, in a last-minute decision. While Grothus and his family usually compete in Drag 965 Pro Nitrous Motorcycle on a regular basis, he originally wasn’t planning to race at the East Coast Nationals.
That changed Friday afternoon, as Grothus was at his family’s race shop preparing his Indocil Art Hayabusa when he realized the event was in the middle of a lengthy rain delay that would push qualifying over to Saturday afternoon.
“Next thing I know I’m checking the clutch on the Pro Mod, we’re firing it up and it just got the juices flowing,” Grothus said. “I just looked at my wife and said, ‘Hey, we gotta go.’”
He loaded up the motorhome, and along with his brother, Bradley, and his young son Graham, made the 995-mile drive to GALOT Motorsports Park. They arrived just in time to miss the first qualifying session, then Grothus ran a smooth 4.14 in the second and final session to qualify No. 4 of four bikes on the grounds. When he tried to hop it up for the first round of eliminations, he hurt a piston after the 330-foot mark and fell to Paul Gast.
“But that’s just part of it. That’s part of the story,” Grothus said. “It’s what makes winning so much sweeter when you actually do it. We’re pretty down right now, but you’ve gotta keep it in perspective. We’re healthy. The bike is a little hurt, but it can be fixed.
“I just love the sport, man,” Grothus concluded. “I love the time with my son and my family.”
When Grothus and the 250-plus other racers made their way to the staging lanes to make a pass, they were greeted by God Speed Ministry lead chaplain Renee Bingham and South East Region chaplain Tammie Smith (pictured above).
“It feels wonderful to be back,” Bingham said in the staging lanes as she waved to racers. “It feels like home. This is the best medicine. We’re thrilled to see everybody and thrilled to be doing what we were created to do.”
Due to social distancing, Bingham and Smith weren’t able to approach racers for a pre-race prayer unless it was requested. The duo also found other ways to serve the PDRA racers from a distance.
“We had T-shirts made with a prayer on the back so that we’re covered in prayer, but also so the racers can read it and they can still experience prayer even while social distancing,” Bingham said. “Chaplain Tammy had signs made with different messages on them. My voice is a little scratchy because I’ve stood back and yelled best wishes and blessings to racers.”
Bingham, always one of the first people on the scene to offer comfort to racers and families during difficult times, closed with one simple statement.
“God bless everybody, stay safe, and one day normal will be back.”