DRAYTON VALLEY, Alta. – If it can be built, there’s a good chance a group of people out there will find a way to race it.
A big rig may not be the first vehicle of choice for many drag racers, but they do put on a spectacular show when speeding down the quarter-mile.
Three Kenworth trucks were part of the annual Thunder in the Valley Drag Racing event hosted at the municipal airport of Drayton Valley, Alta. about 140 km southwest of the province’s capital city.
The third annual event got off to a slow start on Sept. 1 due to rainfall the evening before, but the day heated up with an assortment of vehicles taking the track. Making up a number of different categories, the vehicles ranged from a 1975 Pinto to a Dodge Neon, a Porsche, various Corvettes, Mustangs, pick-up trucks, muscle cars from the 60s and 70s, stock cars, rear-motor dragsters, funny cars, motorcycles and even snowmobiles.
Free earplugs were handed out in the stands and numerous shirts advocating living life a quarter mile at a time, were on display as the racers reached speeds of up to 160 mph and hit the finish line in nine second times, which was impressive – until the Jet Cars hit the starting line.
With Westinghouse J34 jet engines, these custom-built machines have the ability to burn 30 litres of fuel in one pass, are powered by more than 6,000 hp and shoot flames more than 15 feet from the rear engines; and demolished the quarter-mile with six second times and reached speeds in excess of 220 mph, which is roughly 350 km/h.
Gord Cooper is widely considered the premier big rig drag racer in Canada and holds the Diesel Drag Racing Association (DDRA) North American speed record for Pro-Rigs (see cover story). Cooper and his 1968 Kenworth – the Smokin’ Gun – were featured at Thunder in the Valley, alongside two other big rig dragsters, who coincidently enough were inspired by Cooper during his six-year racing career.
In about the same amount of time it took Cooper to take the Smokin’ Gun down a quarter-mile stretch, Brian Anderlini decided he needed to build his own big rig dragster.
“I’ve always liked drag racing and I met Gord Cooper four years ago,” Anderlini told Truck West. “I had been driving trucks for years, and when I went and watched him race three years ago, I decided I would build my own truck.”
Anderlini got his hands on a 1977 Kenworth W900 and went to work building the black and white dragster affectionately dubbed ‘Insanity.’
“I built this truck from the ground up last year. I started with a hood, the cab and two frame rails,” explained Anderlini.
The truck is now complete with an 8V92 Detroit Diesel engine under the hood and an Allison automatic four-speed transmission.
“It’s my first year racing,” noted the driver of Insanity. “This year, this will be five events. I did two last summer to try it out and then I blew it up, so back to the drawing board.”
Anderlini had a brief racing history behind the wheel of a stock car, but enjoys the world of drag racing a little bit more; especially with the big trucks because it’s not something that’s seen every day.
“You’re also not doing as much bodywork, unless you do something really bad out there,” noted Anderlini. “In some aspects it’s quite a different mentality.”
Anderlini also has to change his mentality during the week when he goes back to his day job. He runs a road construction business in his home of Fort St. John, B.C. and credits his sponsors with allowing him to follow his passion.
Heading out to the events on the weekend are part of the pleasure for Anderlini, as he enjoys the long drives.
“I used to be a longhaul truck driver, so driving out of town isn’t a hindrance,” said Anderlini. “Going down to the tracks and meeting people, I really enjoy that part. It is a bit tough when you do three or four back to back though.”
Travelling the circuit can be even tougher when you are the owner, driver and mechanic for the racing team; but the other drag racing truck teams, including Cooper’s, make Anderlini feel right at home.
“He gave me a few tips on stuff and it cut down on a lot of my experiment time. He’s still a big help and gives me advice on how to fix stuff,” Anderlini said of Cooper. “We tend to go to the same events and in a way we have our own little family. It’s nice because we help each other out on the track and party together when it’s done.”
In his first season, Anderlini has topped out at an impressive 95 mph – roughly 150 km/h – and a best time of 15.7 seconds.
“I want to break 100 mph this year, that seems to be the magic number,” added Anderlini. “Everyone seems to have a problem getting to that mark. If I can get there in the first year it will be fine-tuning after that.”
But for Anderlini, the speed and times come secondary to being able to put on a good show for the crowds.
“It’s quite a thrill,” he explained. “Doing the burnout, that’s what the crowd seems to really like, and we’re here to put on a show.”
As Anderlini finishes his sentence, two young boys timidly walk up to the truck seeking the driver’s autograph, and he smilingly obliges as they begin to talk about the days’ drag races.
Ron Petryshen smiles with pride when he talks about the ‘Anger Mangement’ big rig dragster.
But his smile gets even bigger when signing autographs for four boys agitated with excitement at being near the blue dragster.
“That’s the best part; kids are our biggest fans,” added Petryshen, the driver for the Anger Management team.
There’s between three and five guys who make up the Anger Management team, which is based out of Grande Prairie, Alta.
Now in their third season, the Anger Management team decided to get into big rig dragsters after witnessing Cooper behind the wheel of the Smokin’ Gun.
“Four years ago Ron and Al were at Drag Wars in Grande Prairie and Gord Cooper was there and they thought, ‘we could do that,'” Petryshen explained. “They phoned me wanting to know if I knew where they could get an old truck and I had one sitting out back, so I said they could have it; if I could drive it.”
Petryshen had spent his working life in the trucking industry and the 1969 Kenworth W900 he was referring to was used to haul dirt around Edmonton at one time.
The truck was rebuilt from the ground up during a 16-month span and now holds a 3406B CAT engine, with an Allison four-speed manual transmission.
The rebuilt dragster has reached a top speed of 114.5 mph with a 12.9 second time, but the team is always working to try to make the truck faster.
“Every year when it’s parked in the winter we work on it and come up with changes to go faster,” noted Petryshen. “We’re constantly making changes, but we’re trying to keep the truck look. We’ve always had the intention of keeping it looking like a nice truck and trying to make it go fast.”
And going fast is one of the perks of being able to drive the dragster for Petryshen.
“It’s the biggest rush ever. I went parachuting and thought that was a rush,” he commented. “My favourite part would be the burnout. If the track lets us, I do a really good one. We’re exhibition more than anything.”