Most people slow down as they get older but Ray Carlson has sped up.
The former mayor of 100 Mile House has spent the past 33 years moonlighting as a drag racer and recently finished testing his latest drag racer – a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda down in Mission. It’s the fourth race car he’s owned and will be his last, as he admits he is getting a “little long in the tooth.”
“It’s a passion of mine and will be I guess until they tell me I can’t race,” Carlson, 85, said. “There’s a lot of guys (I race against) in their late 30s or early 40s and there are some of us older guys too. We have to keep the young ones honest.”
After being off the track last year due to COVID-19, Carlson said he and his fellow racers can’t wait to put the rubber to the road again.
He spent the past winter installing a big block Chevy engine and transmission into his Barracuda, along with his name and decals, and plans to race south of the border this year, once it reopens.
A realtor with Royal LePage 100 Mile Realty, Carlton has lived in the South Cariboo since 1976 after falling in love with the area.
READ MORE: Carlson: ‘Blessed to have been there’
He started drag racing in the 1980s at the Ashcroft drag racing circuit.
“The opportunity presented itself to buy a car, a 1967 Camero, and then I said ‘OK, let’s see if we can fulfill this lifelong passion to participate.’ In ‘88, I started in Ashcroft at the Eagle Motorplex and it has exponentially grown from there.”
When he first started racing, Carlson said he felt a sense of trepidation which has never quite gone away, especially on the first run with a car. These days, though, Carlson said he relies on the 30 years of experience he’s built up and finds his cars go “straight as an arrow.”
Drag racing is all about reaction time, to what Carlson calls “the Christmas tree,” with the lights to either side of the track letting racers know when to gun their engines. That, combined with the ability to tune his car to run at top speed, is key to success.
“You only need a parachute if you go over 150 miles an hour. This Barracuda had a parachute but I took it off because I don’t want to go that fast,” he said. “The fastest I’ve gone is 148 miles per hour in 9.6 seconds (238 km per hour).”
The biggest obstacle to racing these days is that the local tracks are no longer running – the Ashcroft track closed in 2016 – making it a long haul to major racing hubs in places like Mission. Besides B.C., Carlson has also done a lot of racing in the U.S., including Phoenix, Ariz. Las Vegas, Sonoma, Calif. and Woodburn, Ore.
In 2006, he even qualified for a spot on an All-Star racing team that competed in Chicago.
For Carlson, winning races is secondary to the camaraderie he shares with his fellow drag racers, which he describes as one big family.
When he was testing his new car in Mission, he had a bit of engine trouble and before he could even get out of the driver’s seat, he had two guys rush over to help him out.
“Sometimes if a person is out of competition but you’re still in and something goes wrong with your car, they’ll give you a part of their own car,” Carlson said. “You don’t find that very much, it’s a very tight-knit family-style group. We all look after each other.”