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PETERBOROUGH

Where speed meets style

Peterborough dragster owner and racer wins coveted award at landmark event

  • David Lavoie won a top award at last week's National Hot Rod Association New England Nationals drag racing event.
  • David Lavoie won a top award at last week's National Hot Rod Association New England Nationals drag racing event.
  • David Lavoie won a top award at last week's National Hot Rod Association New England Nationals drag racing event.
  • David Lavoie won a top award at last week's National Hot Rod Association New England Nationals drag racing event.
  • David Lavoie won a top award at last week's National Hot Rod Association New England Nationals drag racing event.

Hollywood stars dream of collecting an Oscar, but David Lavoie wanted a Wally.

And he got one last week, capturing a trophy named for Wally Parks, the founder of the National Hot Rod Association, at the inaugural NHRA New England Nationals event at New England Dragway in Epping.

“We won for best engineered vehicle in our class,” Lavoie said at his Peterborough home on Monday. “It’s a coveted award. You have to have a fast time, and the car has to be built nice, look good, have a power plant configuration that’s appealing.”

The event in Epping, the first NHRA event ever held in New England, drew about 40,000 drag racing fans each day of the four-day event.

“It was a big deal to bring it to New Hampshire,” Lavoie said. “The closest [the NHRA] came before was New Jersey. New England Dragway revamped, put in an all-new track, new lighting. It will be an annual event now. [The NHRA] just signed a 10 year contract.”

Lavoie, 58, competes as a car owner and frequent driver in the top dragster class, just one notch below the fastest cars driven by the professionals. The way the class is set up, dragsters cannot go faster than six seconds for the quarter-mile distance.

Lavoie says everything hinges on getting just the right set-up for the car.

“It all revolves around electronics,” he said. “You look at the data and analyze it, that’s how you run one of these cars.”

Lavoie said his car, which was built by Dan Page of Hampstead and driven at the NHRA event by Scott Hall of Connecticut, was the fastest qualifier in the top dragster class.

“Our first run was 6.004 seconds. We dialed it back after that. The trick is to get as close to six seconds as you can without going under,” he said.

During that qualifying run, Lavoie’s car hit a top speed of 236 mph.

Once qualifying was over, the 32 fastest dragsters race against each other in a series of elimination rounds. As the fastest car, Lavoie’s dragster was matched against the slowest of the other qualifiers in the first round. The car won in the first two rounds before being eliminated in the third.

“There’s an element of luck involved, and being number one qualifier makes you a big target,” Lavoie said.

But the fast qualifying time, and the high quality of his vehicle, earned Lavoie the Wally for best engineered dragster.

Lavoie does all the engine maintenance and transmission work on his car. He hauls the dragster, which is about 25 feet long, in a custom trailer pulled by a 42-foot mobile home. The trailer has room for two laptops to analyze data and racks of spark plugs that get replaced after every run.

“It’s a fine line, getting these cars down the track,” Lavoie said. “You want the car to grab as much as it can, without spinning the wheels. Once you spin loose, it’s all over.”

Lavoie said drag racing is 95 percent mental.

“You’ve got to make split-second decisions and it’s all over in six seconds,” he said. “You don’t have time and you’re very anxious. You have to be prepared. It’s hard to win, but when you do, it’s a great feeling.”

Lavoie is a Peterborough native who graduated from ConVal High School in 1973. He became an electrical contractor and now owns a company called Pyromate, Inc., that makes electronic firing systems for display fireworks companies from around the world.

“Eighty-five percent of my annual business is in the five weeks prior to the Fourth of July,” he said. “After that, it’s easy street, which gives me time to do this racing.”

Lavoie, who had been a snowmobiler for years, got hooked after seeing a drag-racing snowmobile event in 2004.

“I said ‘I’ve got to have one of those’ and I built one,” he said. From there, it was an easy sidestep into drag racing.

“Dan Page built my first car for me in 2006,” Lavoie said. “You tell him how fast you want to go and what engine, and he’ll build it.”

Lavoie said a car owner can win up to $10,000 in the sportsmen’s class events that he enters. But he’s not in racing to turn a profit.

“It costs about $1,500 in parts just to run a car down the track,” he said. “You can’t make money racing. You’re always in the hole.”

He said the top professionals require million dollar budgets to compete.

Lavoie’s never been injured while drag racing, although he was badly hurt in a high-speed snowmobile accident several years ago.

“The drivers’ compartments nowadays have to meet very stringent regulations. I’ve seen cars crash at 300 mph and the drivers walk away,” he said.

Lavoie made a conscious decision to “retire early” several years ago, in order to have time for his hobbies. His five-bay garage houses motorcycles, a restored ’55 Chevy, archery equipment, numerous model helicopters that he flies, a Jeep he modified for rock crawling in Utah, and several hit-and-miss combustion engines that he’s built. The garage’s latest addition, the Wally award, sits prominently on top of a refrigerator next to other drag-racing trophies and photos of his dragsters.

“I’ll never really retire because I’ll always keep working,” Lavoie said. “If you wait till you’re 65, you’re never going to do anything.... My philosophy is to enjoy your life while you’re young.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com.

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