Kirby McLennan crests mid-century holding a 2012 Mallory Super Pro Season Championship in one hand and a bucket list in the other.
“I think about things I haven’t completed in my life,” said Kirby McLennan, Temperance, Mich., who won the championship in the Mr. Gasket $50,000 Super Series.
In 1980, Kirby McLennan launched his quest for speed and win lights when he tooled a 1967 Pontiac Tempest to a dragstrip. Over the years, he raced two tracks, Norwalk on Saturday and Milan on Sunday.
McLennan’s four season championships resulted through persistence.
“Persistent goes hand in hand with not giving up, doing it, whatever it takes mentality,” McLennan said. “You have the mentality that you’re going to be there no matter what.
“You haven’t lost the race until you get the lose slip,” McLennan said. “You’re the winner until somebody proves different. There are not too many people who really dominate, so you just have to keep plugging at it and at the end of the day hope you’re the last guy standing.
“I don’t believe I’m the best racer out there -- not even close,” McLennan said. “I believe I’m above average and if I keep at it, it’s going to show me some positive results in the end.”
“I just have that same ‘don’t give up’ attitude,” McLennan said. “I set goals up a lot of times. I had a goal in my life to get another championship so nobody has more than I did. If I win a big race, then I want to win again.”
The allure of the win light provides a reason to race, but there’s more.
“Continuing on is the desire to do better, the competitor in me, and the friendship from the people at the race track,” Kirby McLennan said. “I believe they’re the best group of friends a person could ask for. It makes me proud to know them.
“Somewhere in life you want to make your mark; you want to say you did the right thing,” Kirby McLennan said. “I’m really happy with the fact that I’ve known the people I’ve known.
“There are a lot of paths you can take in life,” Kirby McLennan said. “I feel I’ve made the right one.”
Similar to the color on his midnight metallic blue 1967 Camaro, quiet-spoken Brian Cireddu races with an understated boldness.
Cireddu, 40, Brunswick, Ohio, works a winning combination on his Camaro like a clock, consistent and dependable.
That groove led Brian Cireddu, a computer programmer at Classic Optical in Youngstown, Ohio, to two consecutive Mr. Gasket Pro Class Championships in the 2011 and 2012 Mr. Gasket $50,000 Super Series.
“I’m really competitive, and I like competing,” Brian Cireddu said. “Some people like to go fast. I don’t. I don’t care how fast I go. I just like to compete.”
With that edge, Brian Cireddu collected 36 points and claimed three of the first four Mr. Gasket Pro Class events in the 2012 Mr. Gasket $50,000 Super Series.
Cireddu disciplines the details.
Often he pulls into the staging lanes first to answer the class call to the next round.
Helmet on, windows up, Brian Cireddu focuses on launches of the cars ahead.
He attributes some of his racing success to luck, and the rest to a good old fashioned work ethic.
“I probably put more time and effort into racing than most people,” Brian Cireddu said. “I race a lot of races and make a lot of runs.
“I try a lot of different things to see what works best, Brian Cireddu said. “I know what combinations work best on my car. I use those for the points races in Norwalk. When I go someplace else, I try something different.
“Racing is a good way to socialize,” Brian Cireddu said. “Racing is where I’ve met all of my really good friends
Kawasaki test runs and drag racing innovators sowed seeds early in Wiseco/Cycle Tech Super Bike Champion Rick Poole from Akron, Ohio.
After 31 years of racing at what is now Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, Rick Poole piloted his black 1983 GS 1100 Suzuki drag bike to his first championship in the Mr. Gasket $50,000 Super Series.
Born in 1958 in Sacramento, Calif. to his drag racing dad, Chuck Poole (legendary wheelstander), Rick Poole hung out in the pits with racing legends Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Gary Beck, Gary Ornsby, and Jungle Jim Lieberman.
“I have a lot of drivers that I like, but I don’t have a very favorite one,” Rick Poole said. “Growing up I thought my dad was “The Man’.”
When barely old enough to walk on his own in the early 60’s, Chuck Poole would take his son to the track. Rick would ride with the guys in their gassers to feel the power going down the track, hanging onto a roll bar instead of being secure in car seat. This is what got him into racing.
As a youngster, Rick Poole took off on anything that would move be it mini bikes, dirt bikes, three-wheelers, scooters, motorcycles, roller skates, unicycles, bicycles, you name it he tried it. “I’m into all kinds of stuff, a Jack of all trades and master of none” says Poole.
“I have 50-plus years of drag racing experience,” Rick Poole said. “I can remember watching flag start drag racing, that’s how old I am.
Poole’s drag racing career actually started in his dad’s Wheelstander, ‘the Chuck Wagon’ and then onto cars and later motorcycles.
“A couple of friends said, ‘Hey, I heard there was a street race in Norwalk. You interested in going?’ I said, ‘Heck, yeah!’” Poole said. “I won my first race. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Rick Poole’s racing career has been very successful. In a car he has won three Oldsmobile nationals, but where he is most decorated is on his bikes. Over the years, Poole has won an International Drag Bike Association (IDBA) World Super Comp Championship, has won four out of six bracket finals, with one of those taking him to Pomona for the NHRA World Finals Championship where he competed against seven divisions for an opportunity to win the overall championship. He has also won the Race of Champions and is a multi-winner at the Halloween Classic.
The best racing advice he heard came from fifteen-time National Hot Rod Association Funny Car World Champion John Force.
“No matter what,” John Force told Rick and Tabitha Gittins, “just make sure you’re having fun.”
“I don’t have much money in the bank, but somehow I make it good,” Rick Poole said. “If I can keep my health, I hope to race for a long time.
Mid-season success racing a red 1999 Firebird lofted Joe Childs to 24 points in Accel Sportsman delivered on time by TFC Transportation in the Mr. Gasket $50,000 Super Series.
Unaware of the dragstrip drama, winning the 2012 championship at Summit Motorsports Park surprised Joe.
“It was a shocker,” said Joe Childs, 28, Bellville, Ohio. “Very humbling and overwhelming, that’s for sure.
“I was glad to finally win a championship with a big car,” Joe Childs said. “I’ve had four Junior Dragster track championships, but this is my first in a full-size car.”
The red 1999 Firebird Joe Childs raced to the Accel Sportsman delivered on Time by TFC Transportation Championship suffered a casualty of early good intentions.
“The first year I had it I drove it to work,” Joe Childs said. “But after that it’s a hunk of junk that gets driven up to the track now and then.
“Eight years ago it was going to be turned into a race car, but life happened,” Joe Childs said. “I kept racing it as a street car just to have something and keep going down the track.”
Joe Childs won the Accel Sportsman Championship on the strength of two event wins in July, bolstered by round points earlier in the season.
Usually Joe’s set up does not respond favorably to hot weather, he said. Yet this year, he pulled through sizzling heat to claim both Winner’s Circle celebrations.
He says his strategy is no secret. “Consistency and lots of practice,” Joe Childs said. “Not to say I’m the greatest. I’m far from it, that’s for sure. You find out what you do wrong and try not to do it the next time.”
“Like they say, ‘There’s a thousand ways to lose.’ Try to not do it again.” Lessons learned, Joe Childs hammers out a routine to produce consistent results.
“Racing is a very humbling sport,” Joe Childs said. “And if you lose one or lose a ton of rounds, round after round, never give up. Just keep driving toward your goals.
“I think I have a dry spell every single year,” Joe Childs said. “Just keep working at it.”
In the spring, perhaps, Joe Childs hopes to pull into the indicator lights on the tree, and look over at the 1991 Oldsmobile Calais of his racing hero lined up next to him. “My dad,” Joe Childs said. “He hasn’t won a lot of races, and he’s not famous by any means, but almost everything I know about racing I learned from him. When I was a kid he taught me everything I knew about racing.”
A physical therapist assistant at a skilled nursing facility in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Joe Childs hopes eventually to pass the racing contagion to his wife, Heather Childs, and 10-year-old son, Noah Lemaster.
“I love it,” Joe Childs said. “It’s an addiction, just a thrill. It’s something you can do that someone else doesn’t have to do for you.
“Winning is always the best ending to any race, but it’s an addiction I love and want to keep doing as long as I possibly can.”
Defining moments shape character and springboard to greater accomplishments.
For 17-year-old Heather Saalman, Kansas, Ohio, six years of chasing a passion leaped into winning the 2012 Bear Motorsports Advanced Junior Dragster.
During the season, Heather won four Bear Motorsports Advanced Junior Dragster events: May 5, June 2, June 30, and July 14, amassing 22 points for the season. The next highest points earners in the class were Connor Grisez and Thomas Summers with 12 points each.
After Heather won the July 14, 2012 points meet in Bear Motorsports Advanced Junior Dragster at Summit Motorsports Park, she tooled to the pit.
Her cousin, A.J. Buchanan, Vickery, Ohio, could save the secret no longer.
“A.J. came up to me and said, ‘Get out of your car and give me a hug,’” Heather Saalman said. “When I asked him, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘you just clinched the championship, girl.’ He had it all figured out before the race, and he didn’t tell me anything until after.”
Behind the scenes, A.J. Buchanan stirred the excitement by tipping off family members so everyone could witness Heather’s milestone.
“Two points races before the end of the season I figured out she had it wrapped up,” A.J. Buchanan said. “The whole family was there. It was a big day for us at the track.
“I think watching her get her championship was twice as exciting as winning myself,” A.J. Buchanan said.
Heather Saalman and her family paid their dues, lining up at the tree for six years before hauling home the track championship, a crowning achievement in drag racing.
But Heather felt satisfaction in drag racing even during the learning and shaping years.
“It’s a family sport and something I love.”
“I’m just very proud of her and very excited for her,” said Jenny Saalman, Heather’s mother.
One of the perks of racing junior dragsters emerges in time spent well. Both parents, Jenny and Kerry Saalman, stage and prep the car. Jenny Saalman revs the competitive spirit within her daughter.
“I do the air in the tires, and I set her RPM’s, her engine idle and wheelies,” Jenny Saalman said. “My husband starts her and sends her out of the lanes, and I take her to the line. Heather and I decide on her dial in to make sure it’s right.
“Before she goes every race, I hit the roll cage and tell her to do her best,” Jenny Saalman said.
“My dad doesn’t race, but he does the mechanical things on my car, and the adjustments,” Heather Saalman said. “We do it as a family sport, and I look up to A.J. Buchanan (a cousin). Especially this year he helped out with a lot of mental strategies. My uncles, Paul Monak and Bob Maloy, race and my grandparents, Ray and Dorothy Saalman, come out and support.”
As Heather aligns studies with career ambitions, she hopes to make a difference as a pediatric nurse.
“I want to take care of little kids,” Heather Saalman said. “I just really like kids. I have little cousins and I love spending time with them. I don’t like little kids to be sick, because they’re not happy. And I want them to be happy.”
Spending time with family ranks as Heather’s number one hobby, she said. Charging down the court in her other hobby, basketball, Heather plays senior point guard for Fostoria St. Wendelin High School.
The team leadership position draws on the same confidence and character strengths as winning on Oct. 6, 2012 the Summit Motorsports Park Big Bond Shootout, and racing to the 2012 Bear Motorsports Advanced Junior Dragster Championship.
Jaeden Durst’s spiral to the top of the 2012 Bear Motorsports presented by American Race Cars Intermediate Junior Dragster included words of wisdom from grandfather, Mark Bonawit.
“Don’t let your head down even if you lose. Just get over it and move on.” Durst quoted his grandfather.
Early in the season the points lead jostled between a trio of Noah Rambow, Jaedan Durst and Stephen Crowell, and survived a late season surge by Zac Gill.
Taking home at least one point each race provided the difference that lifted Jaeden Durst, 13, Fostoria, Ohio, to 17 points, three points above Noah Rambow, who landed in second place.
Jaeden’s winning strategy mixed discipline and fun. “A lot of time on the practice tree,” Jaeden said. “And I didn’t push myself too hard. I just relaxed.”
While Jaeden Durst previously ended up second in points in the Novice class twice, 2012 logged Jaeden’s first championship.
Jaeden’s racing roots trace back to Mark Bonawit’s drag racing days in the pro class in a 1972 Nova.
When Mark Bonawit’s brother-in-law assumed a title of crew chief for a junior dragster at another race track, Mark Bonawit tagged along to help.
“Jaeden has gone with me since he was five,” Mark Bonawit said, adding Jaeden tooled his first junior dragster at age eight. “He always wanted to do it. He loves racing. When he isn’t racing, he’s wanting to go racing somewhere.
“Its fun watching all the kids, too,” Mark Bonawit said. “How they interact with each other. When they’re done racing, they go and have fun.”
Jaeden’s purple, black and silver 2007 Pickens is his second junior dragster, he said. He learned he won the championship the day of the final race.
“We were coming down the road,” Jaeden Durst said. “We pulled in that morning when they rained out juniors. That’s when I found out I won.” Rather than celebrating, Jaeden said, he hung out with friends.
An eighth grade trumpet player at Fostoria Community Schools, Jaeden Durst chose a life passion before a profession.
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Jaeden said, “I’m not really sure. I just want to race my whole life.”
In several years Jaeden Durst hopes to join the ranks sizzling the track in a full-size dragster in the Mallory Super Pro class in the Mr. Gasket $50,000 Super Series.
Kaitlin “Wild Child” Zietlow blazed a trail to a championship in Bear Motorsports Novice Junior Dragsters presented by American Race.
The youngest member of the Wild Racing Team, Kaitlin Zietlow, 10, Brook Park, Ohio, broke through stiff competition to deliver the first season championship to her family team.
“My dad has won an event,” Kaitlin Zietlow said, “But not the whole thing.”
Before the season started, Bill Zietlow made a tough, but the right decision for the family race team. He decided to park the two door cars, so his girls, Kaitlin and Taylor could race.
Kaitlin won the second race May 12, and followed with wins May 26 and June 2. Then she strung together two single round races and a double round race to log 13 points for the season.
In the end, Kaitlin held off late season surges by Trinity Marshall, Fisherville, Kent., who won the first and last races and ended the season with 11 points, and MacKenzie Kerns, Milan, Mich., who also ended with 11 points.
“Kaitlin did her job when it mattered,” Bill Zietlow said, adding he watched the points and tried to make sure he didn’t cause Kaitlin to lose by changing the car. “The last thing I wanted to do was to get her thinking about points and screwing her up that way.
The Wild Racing Team started about six years ago when Taylor Zietlow hopped into her junior dragster and named it “Wild Thing.”
“Kaitlin wasn’t racing yet,” Bill Zietlow said. “We wanted to make her a part of it.” So they named Kaitlin, then four, “Wild Child,” and devised names for the rest of the family.
“If you have met Kaitlin, you know how well that name fits,” Bill Zietlow said. Any day of the year, Kaitlin could tell how many days until she turned eight years old so she race too. Then the Zietlows realized Kaitlin’s birthday fell on a Sunday.
“I was going to take her to whatever track I could find to get her seat time,” Bill Zietlow said. “Bill (Bader Jr.) said, ‘No. Get with me. She’s making her first pass at her home track.’” And she did!
Remembering her eighth birthday, Kaitlin said she felt apprehensive at the track. “I was kind of scared at first,” Kaitlin said. “But as soon as I got out on the track, it got off my chest and I had fun.
“If you get down the basics and you pay attention,” Kaitlin said, “it’s actually very easy.
Kaitlin said the best racing advice she received from her dad, who said, "Don’t worry about the person you’re racing. Worry about yourself and how you handle it."
A fifth grader at Big Creek Elementary School in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, Kaitlin eyes two career fields.
“It’s kind of a tear between a cosmetologist and a professional racer,” Kaitlin said, explaining she loves playing with hair and makeup. “I might want a big Mike Bos dragster, or a ’71 Charger. And I plan to take every seat out like my dad did so I go faster with less weight.”