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Drag racing returns to Garfield Avenue

Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317.

Nobody's ever raced for pink slips at the Kia of Duluth Drag Races & Car Show, but the right rpm-ego mixture could soon change that.

"It would be great once if we had one guy say, 'Whoever wins gets the other guy's car,'" said Ryan Kern, president of Kernz & Kompany, the event promoter for this weekend's drags. "It's getting close to that point. We've got some people who are that intense about this."

While the street races along Duluth's Garfield Avenue probably won't reach the intensity of "The Fast and the Furious," today's racing schedule features some fun matchups aside from preliminary runs down the 1/8th-mile track.

"Now people can say, 'Hey, I want to race you,' and then we allow people to partner up and race against each other for bragging rights -- or they may have a side bet themselves or some sort of other arrangement to race as a grudge match," Kern said.

After Saturday's prelims and grudge fun, Sunday's racing culminates in head-to-head elimination races. Losses might not cost drivers their pink slips, but they will oust them from the tourney. At day's end, winners will be crowned in three divisions.

And there will be plenty of competition for those trophies -- there are 100 cars registered.

"This is the first time we have ever reached and exceeded our capacity," said Kern of the drag races that included 68 cars as recently as last year. He added that aggressive marketing, word-of-mouth advertising and the move to head-to-head racing three years ago and the addition of a second day two years ago have helped increase participation. Local drivers will face rivals from Canada, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and from as far away as Tennessee.

Like the ever-growing drag racing field, Kern expects a larger turnout for the car shows, which allow proud owners to show off their dream machines today and/or Sunday for free. Prizes and awards will be doled out both days.

New this year is a trio of interesting competitions set for today only: a tire-smoking burnout competition (sure to drive away every mosquito within a 10-mile radius), muffler rapping (the loudest muffler wins and probably breaks noise ordinances three counties away) and a flamethrower exhaust competition (bring plenty of marshmallows). Drivers can still register for those happenings at the site.

"This event has been getting bigger and bigger since the beginning -- from the time trials to the drag races and now a two-day event," said Devin Graff, event coordinator for the drag races and car show. See duluthdragrace.com for more details and ticket prices. "This year we have more food vendors, more display vendors, more activities going on for everybody down there. Every year more people come and more drivers register and more people come for the car show."

But what's the secret to ruling Garfield Avenue in a short sprint of 1/8th of a mile compared to the traditional quarter mile? Kern said many drivers dial back their gear ratios to ensure their cars' tires bite the pavement and reach top speeds more quickly and maintain that speed without blowing their engines.

"The key to this event comes down to two things: torque and grip," he said.

Without them, somebody just might take your pink slip.

Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter. Lubbers once won an "unofficial" drag race while driving a 1985 Corvette. But that's a column for another day.

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