Pedal to the Metal

Jay Frye spins his wheels during an NHRA Summit Series at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, Calif., on April 7, 2024. Photo by Benjamin Hanson.


The tires spin and smoke rises.


The engines rumble as drivers anticipate conquering the eighth-mile.



In the small desert town of Irwindale, hundreds of racers gathered to fulfill their need for speed. 

Irwindale Speedway opened in 1998 and features an eighth-mile drag strip, as well as a dual half-mile and third-mile oval track that can be used for drifting or traditional stock car races. 

On a warm Sunday afternoon, Irwindale Speedway hosted an NHRA Summit E.T. Divisional Series where drivers competed in an elimination tournament. There were motorcycles, junior dragsters and heavily modified muscle cars and trucks. Winners raced for a chance to advance to the NHRA Summit National Championship in Las Vegas. 

One racer went to major lengths to achieve extreme speeds. 

Recovering meth user Timothy Smith rigged a General Electric J85 engine, mainly used for Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter jets, to the back of a dragster. 

Smith said it’s expensive to make a standard car go faster and used that as motivation to do something extravagant. 

“You get a lot of shit done when you quit doing dope,” Smith said. 

Smith said finding religion helped keep him sober and safe while racing. 

“I’m looking at the cross the entire time I’m going down the dragstrip,” Smith said. 

The tournament started with motorcycles, then modified cars and finally junior dragsters.

Four-time Irwindale Track championship winner Laverk Harper placed first in the motorcycle bracket. 

Harper said when he’s on his motorcycle and the lights are counting down, he goes through a whole checklist of what to do and envisions how the race should go.

“After I saw my win light come on, I felt the weight lifted off my shoulders and pure joy,” Harper said. 

Jay Frye has been racing since the ‘80s and participated in the Summit E.T. to try out his new 1964 Chevy Nova SS on the strip. 

Frye said he chooses to race at Irwindale because it’s close to home. 

Irwindale Speedway hosts weekly events on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The tracks are open to the public for a night of fun.