Annette Clement can’t help grinning when she walks closer to her race car, a 1967 Acadian, parked on a freshly-cut patch of grass on her front lawn. “It’s my grocery-getter,” she says of the car, the sun reflecting painfully off the shiny paint job.
This weekend, the only thing Clement hopes to get with her car is speed. She will make her debut in the street class at Thunder in the Valley, Port Alberni’s annual drag racing event held on the runway at the municipal airport. Racing takes place Aug. 6–7.
Clement is one of a growing breed of drag racer: husband-and-wife teams. While this is her first year racing, her husband, Rick Robertson, has been racing since 1987.
Both come from a racing background: his mother raced powder puffs in Vancouver in the 1950s; her father used to take her to crash-to-pass and demolition derbies when she was growing up in Chemainus.
“He comes and watches every year,” Clement said of her father. “This year he’s going to get to see his daughter race.”
Robertson has taken his 1969 Dodge Dart 340 Swinger to Western Speedway in Victoria and once to Saratoga Speedway in Black Creek. He has raced Thunder in the Valley since 2006, and both he and Clement have volunteered at the event for several years.
His best run was 13.22 seconds in 2009 at Thunder in the Valley—and the car delivered what he likes best about racing: speed.
Robertson said he’s looking forward to watching Clement compete in her first race. He thought about moving back to street class so she could make her first run beside him, but decided to stay in the modified class.
“She’ll be all right,” he said.
Ron and Elaine Mani have been involved with Thunder in the Valley almost since its inception. Ron has raced right from the beginning, and served as vice-president, looked after site preparation and parking, and this year is taking care of the timing system.
Elaine started helping out with racer registrations nine years ago, and has since become the main person doing that job. In 2008, she decided to leave the registration tent and enter the event herself.
“I’d been around it for a long time. I just decided they couldn’t have all the fun,” she says. “I found a car.”
She will be racing her 1991 Ford Mustang with a 351W-block engine for her fourth year. This year she has stepped up to the modified class.
Ron races his 1964 Ford Fairlane in the modified class too.
July and August are busy months for the Manis, who are part-owners in M&D Auto Parts in Port Alberni (their colleague, Darren Rai, also races in the mod class). Ron works on both of their own cars, although Elaine is not simply a bystander. She calls herself a “gear-head” and says she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty working on her own motor.
“It’s kind of nice because I get all his old stuff,” she says. “Every time he upgrades I get an upgrade.”