HELENA – On Sunday morning, the Rocky Mountain Emergency Services Training Center at the Helena Regional Airport was filled with the roar of engines and the screech of tires. The Helena Valley Timing Association held its 13th annual Blast from the Past drag races at the training center’s track.
There was no shortage of variety in the 92 racing vehicles. They ranged from sports cars and muscle cars to motorcycles and pickup trucks.
Harry Fagen came in from Bend, Oregon, with an early 1960s dragster he extensively rebuilt.
“When I got it, it was just a frame,” he said.
He said the vehicle always gets a lot of attention at this type of event.
“It attracts a lot of gray hair,” he joked. “It’s from my era, you know.”
This was the third time Fagen has come to the Blast to the Past. He said he initially came because he had family members living in Helena, and that he always enjoys returning.
“I love it,” he said. “They put on a real good car show, they do a real good job.”
Organizers estimated about 1,200 people came to watch the races on Sunday. Chad Wenger, vice president of the Timing Association, said it was one of their larger fields of drivers and one of their larger crowds.
Spectators said the part of the fun comes from the sensory experiences – the sights, sounds and even smells.
“You love the smell,” said Ron Mercer. “I got to a lot of the big races around the country and the smell of burning tires – it’s good.”
Mercer was the airport’s director when the training center track was created, using leftover materials from an airport runway project. He said he’s been impressed with how the drag races have developed over the years.
“They’ve done a great job,” he said.
Mercer said he’s had a lifelong interest in auto racing, and that he hoped events like this can connect with the younger generations.
“Great turnout and a lot of young kids here,” he said. “That’s good.”
The drag races are just part of the weekend-long Blast from the Past events. On Saturday, the annual Show and Shine car show was held.
All the money raised from the weekend’s activities goes toward a scholarship fund, to benefit students at Helena College and other institutions. Wenger said, over 13 years, they have raised more than $100,000.