Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What a drag

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. Injured citizens and lawyers, start your liability claims. City accountants, start writing checks. (Photo by John W. Adkisson/The Flint Journal)

With Flint's infrastructure crumbling and violent crime soaring, Mayor Don Williamson has city workers paving an eighth-mile section of Bluff Street between Chevrolet Avenue and Stevenson Street. Guard rails are also being installed.

The reason? The mayor plans to have city-run drag races on Saturdays.

Bryn Mickle and Joe Lawlor of The Flint Journal report:

Lapeer County drag strip operator Ed Vakula, however, is skeptical of the city plan.

Vakula said a new drag strip hasn't opened in Michigan in 40 years, something he attributes to neighbors raising a ruckus over the noise before plans even get off the ground.

Neighbors of Vakula's Lapeer International Dragway complain of noise from four miles away and Vakula doesn't envision that residents living near the Flint drag strip will be too happy either.

"It's loud but we are used to it," said Tom Coulter, who lives near Vakula's drag strip.

"If the wind blows this way... You would have to raise your voice (to have a conversation)."

Aside from noise, there is also the question of insurance and making sure the cars are fit for racing, said Vakula.

Insurance for a drag strip can run upwards of $1,000 a day and a mishap with a stick shift transmission can turn a car into a bomb, sending shrapnel into spectators.

"I've never heard of anyone putting (a drag strip) in a city," said Vakula.

"I can't believe they would do that."


  1. This has to be an April Fool's joke out of season. I mean even the Mayor is not this stupid, is he?
    I wonder which one of the Mayor's buddies needs a drag strip to test his car, that can be the only reason for this folly.

  2. Since I'm out of the area now... did the Flint residents know the Mayor was crazy when they elected him? I'm beginning to think they put him in office as a sardonic joke for the city.

  3. It honestly sounds like residents voted for this Mayor over an opposition candidate who was a Rhodes Scholar. Or have I misread something somewhere? I hope it wasn't a gut anti-intellectual response to the idea of Mayor Rhodes Scholar -- I hope that the opposition was more crazy, and dangerous to boot.

  4. It's hard to evaluate a local election from afar, but I did get the sense that many voters viewed the Dayne Walling/Rhodes Scholar as an outsider, even though he grew up in Flint, left, and then returned. You'd think that's the very person you'd want to be mayor.

    Anyone else out there with more insider knowledge?

  5. Well hopefully they get it up and running, maybe next season..the closest thing we have is the country bumpkin track in Lapeer..

  6. I realize that this questionable project got put on the back burner anyway, but isn't a drag strip supposed to be 1/4 mile, not 1/8?

  7. Actually there are a lot of 1/8th mile drag race etracks around. We have on here in Immokalee FL. If they had actually completed this project it would have been a great addition to "Back to the Bricks."

  8. I've heard of 1/8 mile strips before. They're much more oriented toward driver skill, i.e. your ability to get off the line sooner and better than the other driver, and oriented less toward engine-builder skill and the car owner's billfold size, which is what it takes to maximize acceleration and top speed in that second eighth-mile.

  9. Just to fill out this discussion a bit more:

    Don Williamson is a car guy. He has a sizeable collection of historically interesting production and racing cars, and he owns Brainerd International Raceway, a road track and dragstrip complex in Minnesota. BIR is part of the NHRA Nationals circuit, and is one of the fastest dragstrips in the country...I gather due to the money spent on making it just right.

    My guess is that Don thought that there must be a lot of car people around here, and having a drag strip near downtown would bring those people...working and middle class folks of all ethnicities, having mostly that one common interest...into the City, where they'd support local businesses and have fun.

    I think probably the idea would have been to limit the track to street legal cars...which have mufflers. Amateur street legal drag racing is very popular at existing tracks around the Midwest.

    If you're a car person, it wasn't such a crazy idea. Of course, participants at this blog-site might not lean toward that orientation, and as it turned out, neither did most folks who influence Flint government.

    1. I'd say I'm a car person - I can't wait for the weather break so I can get my Chevelle out of the garage - and I thought this was a crazy idea. A drag strip in a neighborhood, with Kettering at one end and the river at the other. There were too many things that could have gone wrong, and Flint doesn't need any more lawsuits against it. I'd love for there to be a drag strip in Flint, just not on a city street.

    2. J.L. beat me to it on this one. I thought it was a decent idea if done correctly. I've always thought Flint should somehow leverage its car history, even in small ways. But Flint has got to be the slip and fall capital of America. Lawsuits galore for all sorts of things are costing the city money. And Williamson forged ahead on this with no input from the neighbors or, apparently, the city attorney. The first crash would have cost Flint a bundle. And why a city street when there's so much vacant land? It wasn't the idea I objected to, it was the execution.

  10. No disagreement about the legal environment, and asking the citizenry for input was antithetical to Don's entrepreneurial style...but regarding "city street", I'm pretty sure Don's original idea was to build a wholly new track within the ex-GM land boundaries, not to take over Bluff Street.

    The straight line distance from a slightly re-aligned Swartz Creek to Chevrolet Avenue, at right angles to Chevrolet on the south bank, is about 3400 feet if you're willing to build across Stevenson and temporarily close off that street while the track's in use--not the end of the world at present traffic levels, given the existence of good crossings up- and downstream. That would have been way more than enough for an eighth-mile track, or even a quarter mile track (i.e. 1320 feet of running room, plus a hundred feet or so for staging, plus room for stopping) if the track was limited to street legal vehicles.

    Street legal vehicles can comfortably stop from quarter-mile speeds in say eight hundred feet. A thousand foot stopping section would have left plenty of room for a three hundred foot safety "sandbox", with several hundred feet left over.

    The closest homes in Hall Flats would have been about 800 feet away, and the closest on the north bank would have been about 1250 feet. It's actually a pretty big piece of empty land.

    Fundamentally, a dragstrip needs to be built on flat land. The land near the river is quite flat, so there wouldn't be any expensive terraforming needed.

  11. The idea was good, the location bad. Never could figure out why Flint didn't have a drag strip.....when places like Onondaga,Ubly, Tri-Citiy,etc. did


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.