By Richard McGuire
When Brad Quwek offered me a chance to ride with him in his souped-up 1975 Pontiac Astre on the drag strip at the Richter Pass Motorplex, I hesitated for just a second.
I don’t usually turn down a chance for a new experience, so I accepted. High speeds don’t terrify me, but I’ve never felt the urge to race in cars.
“Don’t forget to bring a second pair of underwear,” a helpful colleague advised.
But Quwek, who has lived in Osoyoos for four years and has been drag racing since the 1970s, impressed me that he knows what he’s doing.
He inherited his love of speed from his father, who bought a 1958 Mercury Montclair with a 430-cubic-inch engine, “just because it was faster than a Cadillac.”
For Quwek, who’s almost 60, the speed is fun, but there’s a lot more that draws him to drag racing.
“It’s working on the vehicles,” he tells me as he gets his highly modified Astre ready for a time trial. “It’s the people that go to the racetrack. They’re very friendly people and they’ll help you out with anything.”
It was still just Saturday, but the racetrack at the Osoyoos Airport was already a busy place. The Wine Country Racing Association was getting ready for its second last Sunday of racing this year.
The final racing day is Oct. 8.
In every direction there was the sound of loud engines revving and the sight of fast car lovers with hoods removed tinkering with engines.
The smell of burned gasoline, or in the case of one powerful-looking vehicle, alcohol fuel, permeated the air.
When asked, Quwek admits that as a teenager in Bruderheim, Alberta, he liked to race his half-ton truck on the roads.
“We did,” he says. “Things were different then. There were a lot less vehicles around and things were totally different.”
When he was around 20, he began racing legally at tracks.
“It was a place a person can go and drive their vehicles as fast as you want,” said Quwek. “Or as fast as you can. When I started in Edmonton, it was a quarter-mile track, so my 1971 half-ton was running 1424 at nearly 100 miles an hour.”
The “1424” means 14.24 seconds. By contrast, Quwek’s Astre runs 614 or 6.14 seconds at 111 miles an hour on an eighth of a mile.
The Astre was the Pontiac version of the Chevy Vega. Part of its attraction for Quwek is that it’s more rare than its Chevy cousin. But the car has little resemblance to the way it came off the assembly line more than 40 years ago.
“Everything has been changed,” said Quwek. “The only thing left of the original car is the top section.”
The doors and windows have all been gutted and replaced with stronger parts. There’s a custom frame and a roll cage. The engine is a 406-cubic-inch small block Chevy, with two-speed powerglide transmission.
This car is the one Quwek likes to drive the most of the three he owns.
Quwek wants to take the car for a short spin to get it warmed up before the time trial. He lets me hop in.
Or more accurately, squeeze in. The space is very tight – tighter even than economy class on an airplane.
I’m over six feet and 220 pounds and there’s no room for both my camera bag and me.
The engine hesitates to start, but pretty soon it’s cranking out exhaust and making lots of noise as we slowly drive around.
Soon we’re ready. The seatbelt is more like a harness. Quwek and I both wear helmets, which muffle the noise a bit.
We drive up to the start of the track and wait for our turn in line.
Onto the runway track we drive, through some water, and then Quwek spins his tires to do a burnout, sending up black clouds of burned rubber. This warms up the tires, he explained.
Quwek watches the hand signals of the men on the track and then the lights so he knows when to move forward.
“You’re at the starting line,” Quwek explains. “You wait until the Christmas tree starts going down. It’s a half a second between the lights. When it gets to the bottom, you just let go of the button and you just nail the gas.”
In that quick burst of power, the force of gravity was intensified and I clung tightly to hang onto my camera.
It lasted a few short seconds and then we were slowing down. It was over before I knew it.
Quwek guessed we were over 70 mph before he slowed down, but the ET (elapsed time) slip would give the true information.
“That was fun,” I told Quwek as we coasted back to his truck.
One of his buddies pointed me in the direction of the washrooms in case I needed them. I didn’t, and I didn’t need any spare underwear either.