You can call Port Alberni’s Dyan Lover brassy, a redneck, a Creeker, or a gearhead and she’ll likely respond by smiling, then taking you on the racetrack and whipping you.
The Alberni Valley’s first lady of drag racing is one of 280 drivers competing in Thunder in the Valley 2012, which is being held at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport on Aug. 11-12.
Dyan isn’t the only member of the Lover family competing in the venerable race. Her partner Ron York is competing, as well as her brother John and sister Sharon. Her brother-in-law John West (married to sister Wendy) is also racing and her brother Ray competes in 4×4 racing.
“It’s in the blood. I influenced my brothers to race when we were younger. What can I say?” she said.
Thunder has a special significance for another reason. “I introduced my sister Sharon to Brent Harris at Thunder in the Valley two years ago and they’re married now,” she said. Harris competes in Thunder and is racing again this year.
Dyan made it to the semi-finals in the pro class in 2011 before being beat by Port Alberni racer Gerald Levasseur and his 1968 Camaro Z28.
Dyan worked as a volunteer with Thunder in the Valley since the race’s inception. She spent seven years with a broom tending to the burnout box – the dirtiest job in the event but it has to be done. “I did it to be close to the cars,” she said. “I thought ‘this is what I was meant to do’. Cars are my drug of choice.”
Being outdoors and involved with cars comes naturally to Lover, and she chalks it up to her roots, which she’s proud of. “I’m a Creeker. I love being outside and I can’t stand being in the house,” she said.
Two things stand out as important to Lover after listening to her: family and racing. The racing die was cast long before there was a Thunder in the Valley.
The mother of one son (Lance) was born the second eldest of six children and was raised in Beaver Creek. Lover attended Gill School, Beaver Creek Elementary and AW Neill before graduating from ADSS in 1978. She wanted to be a mechanic in school and was the first female to take mainstream auto tech courses in Grades 11-12.
Her first race experience, she says, was at age 14. “The police chased John West and I down Beaver Creek Road because John had his headers off,” she said. The pair were caught but not charged as they stopped in time to re-attach the headers.
She realized her ambition of becoming a mechanic and worked on cars for a time but later gave it up. “I realized that I wouldn’t be working on race cars all the time so I lost interest.”
She managed a camera store and worked in a beer and wine store before becoming a school bus driver five years ago.
Lover used to race off-track as well, finding an outlet for her restless spirit. She considered herself fearless to a fault, she says, feeling that if you have a car with speed then that’s what you use it for.
An experience two years ago, however, made her think. She momentarily lost control of her car at another race and saw a wall fast approaching in her headlights.“I had a fire suit on but that moment scared the crap out of me,” she said.
The experience tempered Lover and gave her a new mindset.“It’s maturity. I don’t want to lose a pile of points off my license and I have a responsibility with my job now,” she says.
Lover is one of a handful of women who compete as racers in a male-dominated world.“I hear chauvinistic remarks from men and I expect it — it’s their world,” she says. “But I’m also able to help promote the sport because as a woman I get more attention.”
Woman or not, Lover says she can hold her own. “I’ve got an opinion and I’m not afraid of voicing it. I don’t keep my mouth shut,” she said.
Lover drives a 1969 Camaro Z28 that is powered by a 540-cubic-inch Merlin engine. The parts have something akin to a best-before date and she has to change them out every two years. She estimates she’s invested $130,000 in the car and plans on modifying it later this year to compete in the more powerful door slammer racing class.
In addition to racing in Thunder, Lover also races in NHRA events in Mission along with several other racers from Port Alberni, as well as in Ashcroft.
She’s also been to events in Edmonton, Las Vegas, Bakersfield, Cal., and New Jersey. “Thunder doesn’t have the resources that other events do, but they put on a good event and no one works harder than the volunteers,” she said.
“Racing is my passion. It keeps me smiling.”