(HELENA) There was a flash of lights – three yellows and one green – and then the drivers were off at the Helena Valley Timing Association’s 14th annual Blast from the Past drag races.
Organizers said more than 100 drivers took part in Sunday’s races, speeding down an eighth-mile track at the Rocky Mountain Emergency Services Training Center, on the Helena Regional Airport campus.
Drivers brought in vehicles old and new – from sports cars to pickup trucks and motorcycles.
Adam Whitman came in from Salmon, Idaho, bringing a heavily modified 1927 Ford roadster with a Buick engine.
“It drives like a Cadillac,” he said.
Whitman grew up in Helena and has been racing since an early age. He says he’s taken part in this race all but one year.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “You get that little bit of an adrenaline rush – and when you go places like this, it’s legal.”
Curt Milledge, a Helena driver, also has years of racing experience. On Sunday, he drove a 2000 Chevrolet Camaro, with a fiberglass body and other modifications for speed.
“I picked it up about three years ago, just wanting to go faster,” he said. “I thought I’d see if I could go 200 miles an hour in a quarter [quarter-mile].”
He said he always enjoys taking part in the Blast from the Past.
“It’s local, a great bunch of guys,” he said.
Both Whitman and Milledge believe they’ve reached speeds well over 100 miles an hour on the Helena track. At one point Sunday, they raced side by side.
Hundreds of people were on hand to watch the high-speed action. Chad Wenger, of the Helena Valley Timing Association, said they were expecting one of their largest crowds – and largest field of drivers – because of the good weather.
Sunday’s races were just part of the association’s Blast from the Past weekend events. On Saturday, about 360 vehicles were brought in for the annual Show and Shine car show. Wenger said they had about 2,000 people come in to view the cars.
All the money raised through the Blast from the Past events goes toward a scholarship fund for vocational education at institutions like Helena College. Over 14 years, they have raised more than $100,000 for scholarships.
Whitman said that fund is one of the reasons he keeps coming back. He also enjoys connecting with the other racers – including some of the people who mentored him, who are still taking part to this day.
“It’s for a good cause,” he said. “I get to visit everybody I know and have some fun here at both the car show and the drag races.”
Milledge said he keeps coming back because of the atmosphere, which he said feels like a family.
“The adrenaline’s a big, big portion of it, but also the camaraderie, everybody that you get to hang with,” he said. “You can race a guy, then you’re out of fuel and he’ll loan you gas to race you. You can leave your wallet on the dash of your truck and nobody will steal it. So it’s pretty fun.”