MACEDONIA — Aaron Allison likes to go fast, preferably for less than 8 seconds.
A Macedonia-based consultant for the automotive aftermarket parts industry, Allison works on his reaction time while sitting on a mockup of a dragster’s seat on the floor of his finished basement.
He stares at the wall, where a "Christmas tree" of parallel lights stacked in a column signal the start of a race. The first two light at the top of the stack and the signal proceeds down in pairs: Yellow, yellow, yellow – green!
Allison lets go of the knob, aiming to release his car’s clutch and unleash its power in less than two tenths of a second. A digital readout shows his reaction time: 0.507 seconds. He’s shooting for 0.500 even.
He’ll do it several dozen times more, aiming for perfection.
On the asphalt at a dozen tracks around the country, Allison will be strapped in behind the wheel in his fire suit and helmet and will release a similar knob to send his car hurling down the track. Within seconds, he’ll go a quarter mile, reaching more than 160 mph.
"I just hold on to the wheel and keep it straight," he says.
Allison drives two cars. The first, a 1990 "Superstock Eliminator" class Chevy Cavalier, was built by his father, Terry Allison, who is a racer as well, having been involved in the sport for more than 35 years. The Cavalier has a 341-cubic-inch engine that propels it through the quarter mile with body-jolting acceleration.
The other car is a 1998 Stock Eliminator Firebird which is slightly heavier, and runs slightly slower.
Allison says he racks up about 200 races per year, and has probably run in thousands of races during his career.
He’s scored some impressive wins in recent years and in December was named 2017 National Hot Rod Association’s North Central Division Super Stock Champion. It was the second year he earned the honor. The NHRA Central Division includes Ohio, Michigan and other Midwest U.S. states.
Allison says the hardest thing about racing is staying focused. At events that may start on Wednesday and last through Sunday, with up to three races per day, it takes concentration to bring one’s top game to each heat.
"You might only make two or three runs per day," he said. "You can’t have a bad day and still win."
Getting focused starts with getting the car ready for each day’s racing, which involves digging deep into the engine’s workings to adjust valve springs and carborated fuel feeds.
That’s right – his engines’ fuel systems are of analog variety, based on springs, valves and physical adjustments made just prior to each race to maximize power derived from the evaporation of gasoline mixed with air of varying humidity and ambient temperature.
Likewise, the racers pull up to the line and do a series of "burns" to get their tires hot and sticky, thus increasing their ability to grip the track.
"I wouldn’t say that any part of it is scary," he said, adding he runs about 200 races per year art a dozen-or-so events, adding up to "thousands" of individual runs per year.
But when the strip is wet, or it’s cold and another competitor has crashed, "sometimes, you’ll run when track conditions are less than ideal.
"It’s typical at these events that they will wreck some cars," he added. "If you race at night, and it’s a little chilly and they’ve wrecked a couple of cars in the past two hours – yes, I get a little nervous."
The stakes can be high, as a win could bring his team as much as $12,000.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to win a couple races a year," he said. "We travel to probably 14 or 15 events a year and you’re gone three or four days at a time."
Though he works as though racing is a full-time job, he says it doesn’t pay for itself.
"I would say I make some money, but if you looked at it by the hour, it would be like what a high school football or basketball coach makes.
"I like being able to compete."
Eric Marotta can be rached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.