Kelty keeps his wheels in the air at drag strip

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Kasey Kelty sits in his Ford Mustang dragster at the Walla Walla Drag Strip.

WALLA WALLA - Kasey Kelty has an unusual habit for a high-level drag racer.

He likes to take his machine on the streets.

Kelty races a 1991 Ford Mustang that puts down 425 horsepower at the rear wheels. It's completely custom - minus a couple of factory parts here and there - and super rumbly. And street legal.

Cruising around town, it may not look like much next to a 2012 Mustang GT, all dirty and hodgepodge, but take Kelty's car to the track, fire it up, and it will lay down a 1/8th mile in an adrenaline-filled 6.5 seconds. And do a wheel stand.

"What fun is it to have one that you can only get in and drive it an 1/8th mile at a time down the track and go home?" Kelty asked at his father's garage near Kelty's Used Auto parts, where Kelty is a part-owner and manager. "I don't want to do that. I want to be able to drive it and have fun with it and enjoy it."

The authorities aren't always as fond of his Mustang's hearty rumble, but after a lecture about the noisy vehicle, Kelty said police are usually more interested in the car than upset.

Kelty began racing at the Walla Walla strip, a 1/8-mile affair, in 2002 with a stock-looking ‘94 Cobra Mustang, a rare car in it's own right, and caught the drag-racing bug.

Since then Kelty has moved on to his current ride, which is about 800 pounds lighter, and had a lot of success.

He placed third in the Napa Points Series at the Walla Walla Drag Strip in 2011 and currently is in fourth place, pending this weekend's results. Spokane's Shalon Domme, who happens to be Kelty's girlfriend, is in the process of breaking away from the pack with 46 points - 11 more than the second-place racer and 13 more than Kelty's 33 points.

Although Kelty competes at other strips - traveling to Yakima, Spokane and elsewhere, - the Napa Points Series is his highest priority.

"It's because this is the home track, and this is the point series," Kelty said. "This is the most important thing we do, Walla Walla. There is way more pressure here than there is when you get out of town."

Aside from the competition, Kelty said he enjoys the family atmosphere at the track, which has many of the same racers compete each weekend.

"All the racers are a big family, especially at this track," said Kelty, a 1997 Wa-Hi graduate. "We'll sit around Saturday night and have a good time and everyone kind of sits around and visits and mingles around the race track at the different camps.

"Everybody gets along, all the guys in our pro class and superpro class, everybody knows each other and we'll give each other a bad time all the time."

Kasey races his Ford in the pro class, and although he said he could go superpro, where the cars use more advanced transmissions and are often more powerful, he says he enjoys the challenge posed by the manual transmission requirement of the pro class.

Instead of "pushing the button" on the first of three amber lights the racer sees, and then letting the transmission launch the car and shift the gears as in the super pro class, pro drivers must guage the lights and their cars' reaction times to achieve a perfect launch. Then, while super pro drivers concentrate on keeping their super-powerful vehicles shiny side up, pro drivers must also manually shif their vehicles.

"This'll catch a little bit of heat from some of the guys that read it, but I believe that pro is the hardest class at that track because it is a very hard thing to do, leaving off that third yellow light," Kelty said. "That's what makes it hard.

And when Kelty's Mustang launches, it launches hard. So hard that he usually performs a wheel stand, accelerating so fast that the front wheels lift a foot or more of the strip.

Most racers will put a wheelie bar on the back of their dragsters to keep the vehicle from taking off like that, but Kelty enjoys the adrenaline rush of almost literally taking off at the line.

And if the wheely-ing Mustang happens to distract the other driver for half a second - well that's OK too.

Kelty is all in at the drag strip. He's on the board, and although he doesn't have a formal tech education, the long-time auto parts worker is one of the tech officials at the track.

At this point Kelty has no plans on getting a new vehicle.

"We've got this one pretty well ironed out," Kelty said. "It works pretty well for us."

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