Willamina mixes mud and sun for summer fun

Marcus Larson / News-RegisterOrganizers had to add water to the track Saturday, but the mud drags proved thrilling for competitors and viewers alike.
Marcus Larson / News-Register
Organizers had to add water to the track Saturday, but the mud drags proved thrilling for competitors and viewers alike.

WILLAMINA — Between races at Willamina’s Saturday Mud Drags event, volunteers kept watering down the track with fire hoses.

The day was hot enough, and the vehicles fast enough, that the mud never remained mud for long — not without generous applications from a water truck lumbering its way up and down the course.

At the starting line, engines roared and exhaust and mud filled the air — except for when it didn’t. Then, the driver popped the hood and volunteers crowded over the engine to look for the problem. In a worst case scenario, a tow truck had to back down the track to hook up the stalled vehicle and drag it out of the way.

Engines were prone to overheating, so volunteers splashed water onto engines and grills. Occasionally, truck grills were sprayed at the starting line with the same fire hoses used to soak the course.

According to Jeff Parker of Coos Bay, the best part of being a mud drag racer — other than winning — is “taking off, hitting that throttle.”

He’s a veteran of drags in Coos Bay and the Camas Valley, but new to Willamina. He competed as an independent in the Super Modified Class.

“I love it,” Parker said. “I love every minute of it — especially if you win.”

As he spoke, an open class vehicle roared by, spitting chunks of mud upwards of 30 feet into the air, by Parker’s estimation. “It’s cool to see that, too,” he said.

Chris Bayne and his girlfriend, Belinda McElroy, competed with the Wrecking Crew Race Team from Lincoln City.

Bayne said the team — which hits as many events as possible along the Oregon Coast, including Sheridan and Willamina — was formed about 10 years ago. “We’ve all been doing this for way too long,” he said with a laugh.

He and McElroy agreed their favorite summer venue is Reedsport, because the event runs two days and they get to camp overnight. But they said Willamina has a great track and superb organization.

McElroy, who took up the sport three years ago, said she likes the people best. She said everyone in the mud drag community is very neighborly.

“People will help you out, fix your car, even if they’re gonna be racing you,” she said. “It’s kind of like a family.”

Her point was underscored by the cheering from the pit section. Drivers and support personnel cheered friends, teammates and even total strangers race after race, with nary a boo heard.

McElroy competed in the V8 Stock Class in a 1983 Chevy pickup flying a Wrecking Crew flag.

Bayne said she’d won awards in every race she’d ever run in, then regretted saying it. “You know, I might have just jinxed us,” he mused.

But McElroy prevailed in every one of her runs in the double-elimination racing to easily claim top honors. She went on to win the title in the Powder Puff V8 Stock Class, undefeated again, despite fighting a vapor lock.

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