KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE

 Opportunities to turn pro are precious and few in drag racing.

Just ask Brady Kalivoda and Brad Plourd – gifted young drivers from the state of Washington without major league rides.

Catching on with a corporate-backed team has been difficult and frustrating for two of the area’s promising second-generation racers whose fathers made their marks on Northwest strips.

Second-generation racers Brady Kalivoda and Brad Plourd still feeling

the need for speed


 

Opportunities to turn pro are precious and few in drag racing.

Just ask Brady Kalivoda and Brad Plourd – gifted young drivers from the state of Washington without major league rides.

Catching on with a corporate-backed team has been difficult and frustrating for two of the area’s promising second-generation racers whose fathers made their marks on Northwest strips.

Big money talks in this expensive and obsessive game, and finding the right people with the right sponsor remains as elusive as ever for many deserving candidates.

Kalivoda and Plourd hope to fall into the right hands. The dream to race professionally still burns inside them.

“It’s a stop and go battle,” said Kalivoda, 33, of Seattle, who has struggled to ignite his Top Fuel career since making his pro debut at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash., in 2001. “It ultimately comes down to dollars. It’s a big thing in motorsports, whether it’s right or wrong. There’s a lot of talented people sitting on the sideline who I think should be in race cars but don’t have the funding and the people to get into the seat.

“Motorsports is more a business than a sport.”


a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Click to visit our sponsor's website


Plourd, already a U.S. Nationals champion at age 24, is well aware of how the sport operates. Despite a dazzling string of driving performance in the sportsman ranks, the Covington, Wash., driver continues to be on the outside looking in for a full-time job. He has established contacts, shaken some hands but given no promises of a factory ride.

“I talked to people all the time,” said Plourd, who drives in the sportsman category in hopes of securing a Pro Stock seat. “I haven’t found the magic words to use and I haven’t found the money tree, I guess.

“But I do know that I need to win some races so that people don’t forget my name,” he added. “We’ll see what happens and hopefully it will happen some day.”

For many young prospects, that day never comes. While the Northwest is steeped in drag racing history, few of its best drivers have escaped this far outpost to race successfully on the national stage.

Seattle area’s Jerry “The King” Ruth, a fearless driver who essentially footed his own bill, won world titles in the early 1970s. Tacoma’s Pat Austin, backed by a strong racing family, won big regionally and parlayed that into a winning run nationally. Semi-retired now, Austin remains fourth on the NHRA all-time national-event victory list with 75.
“In my case, I was very fortunate,” Austin said. “My dad (Walt) had his own operation that worked out real well.

“There were guys who are driving now … Ron Capps, Larry Dixon … who were crew members on major teams who eventually worked their way into rides. They were ambitious, hard working and got the opportunity when the door came open.”
Austin said today’s young guns are just as worthy and willing to get there. Winning frequently in front of scouts helps the cause, he said, but the rest depends largely on fortuitous circumstances. Austin worked and caught a break in sponsorships, notably Castrol, to fund his team’s surge to NHRA prominence.

“It’s a lot of do with who you know and being in the right place at the right time,” Austin said. “There’s a lot of really good drivers out there. There’s a lot of drivers, like Brad (Plourd) who can drive a Fuel car if given the opportunity. They all want to work hard and they have a lot of ambition.
“But when you look at it, there are only so many Top Fuel and Funny Car teams,” Austin said. “You’ve got probably hundreds and thousands of sportsman drivers who are capable of driving, but there are only 18-to-20 Top Fuel and 18-to-20 Funny Car teams. The percentages are small, slim to drive for one of them.”
What makes it even more difficult is the fact that today’s pro teams are suiting up young drivers who likely will stay in those seats for a long time. Greater TV exposure and limited, innovative sponsorship deals also make for tougher competition.

But Austin urges young drivers to be persistent and follow their dreams, however long the odds might be.

Kalivoda hasn’t lost sight of his dream despite some setbacks.

A successful sportsman driver with Renton roots, Kalivoda learned the craft from his father Dick Kalivoda, a legendary record-breaking driver. Young Kalivoda worked his way up to the NHRA ranks as crewman, engine builder, then journeyman driver with some part-time under-funded teams.

Just last year he lost a close audition to Melanie Troxel for a Top Fuel ride with the Don Schumacher racing empire.

Turned away in the U.S., an undaunted Kalivoda raced internationally to maintain his skills. He set the track record and won the NitrOlympics in Germany last year and plans to return to defend his title next month.
Kalivoda was called to fill in for a Top Fuel driver at an NHRA Chicago race last month, but was called away to be with his mother Sharon, who had taken a turn for the worse battling cancer.

“I’m so glad that I was able to spend that last week at home with her,” he said. “She was my No. 1 fan.”

Kalivoda’s mother died peacefully in her sleep at her West Seattle home on June 15.

For Kalivoda, racing had to wait. Hopefully another chance will come his way. In the mean time, he is working as part owner and manager of a replacement window and door company with offices in Phoenix and Las Vegas. The job will allow him the flexibility to pursue a drag racing ride.

“I worked long and hard to get to this point,” he said. “I’m not going to fade away that easily.”


 

Got a comment? Drop us a line at [email protected].

 


a d v e r t i s e m e n t


Click to visit our sponsor's website