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Two local drivers take drag racing titles

Two drivers from New Richmond earned season drag racing championships this year at Rock Falls Raceway in Eau Claire.

Keith Johnson won his third consecutive title and his fifth overall Street Eliminator title. Steve Olson earned his first championship in the King of the Hill class.

The 10-event bracket racing season at Rock Falls Raceway is held on the quarter-mile National Hot Rod Association sanctioned drag strip.

The 2004 season was challenging for Johnson and Olson. Neither driver started with dominating performances and neither driver clinched their title until the final race of the year.

Johnson left no opening for his rivals in the final event, winning seven rounds of racing and winning the event.

In his final event, Olson won two rounds of racing and his closest rivals were eliminated in earlier rounds, giving him the season championship.

Johnson began drag racing in 1971 at Minnesota Dragways in Coon Rapids. That track, now gone, was the predecessor to Brainerd Raceway. He ran a 1954 Chevrolet in the J/Gas class.

Olson, a teenager at the time, began dragracing in the early '70s at Tenora Dragways, which was located in Comstock. He ran in the F/X class with a 1965 Mustang.

Currently Johnson runs in the Street Eliminator class, which is essentially a street-legal stock class. He drives a 283-powered 1965 Chevelle, which reaches about 85 miles per hour in the quarter-mile.

On Oct. 3, Johnson won the title of King of the Track by winning a special eight-car shootout, consisting of races involving the top two drivers in each of the four classes at the track.

Olson drives a highly-modified 1979 Mustang. It has a large-displacement Ford small-block engine, based on the 351 Windsor block. It launches Olson down the strip at 137 miles per hour and in the high nine-second range. He is sponsored by Cox Motors and Powerline Performance. He is employed as a senior master technician at Cox Motors.

Both drivers struggled with bad luck early in the season. Johnson's first three events included losing by .001, .002 and .004 of a second.

"It was really frustrating," he said. "I was approaching the starting line with apprehension."

Olson did not win a round until the third event of the season. The second event ended for him before it began. Smoke from circuits for a failed electric water pump began rolling out of the dashboard at the starting line, forcing him to withdraw.

"It was an easy fix, but not possible at the track," reflected Olson. "I needed parts I didn't have."

By mid-season the two drivers let their presences be known. Johnson won two events and finished second in another. Olson was second twice and went deep into the rounds in several other events. Johnson finished the year eight rounds up on the second place driver. Olson finished the season three rounds up on his second place racer.

"It was cool seeing someone else from New Richmond cutting through the pack with me," Olson said. "We both knew that luck will beat skill and we had both of them working for us at the same time."

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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