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Many make long trek to catch drag races

EPPING — Seventy-year-old Sunny Monat has always been a fan of drag racing.

"I'm old enough to remember going to the drags at Orange Airport in Massachusetts when you rode with your boyfriend in the car that was dragging and kept your fingers crossed that it drove home and took everybody back where they came from," the South Hadley, Mass., woman recalled with a laugh as she and her family arrived at New England Dragway on Thursday for the start of this weekend's inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals.

Thousands of fans are expected to pack the dragway for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series' first stop in New England.

It's a big deal for people like Monat, who will make the four days of racing a family event with her husband, Wayne, 66, her daughter, Christina Sibley, 38, and son-in-law, John, 42.

The family has been to New England Dragway before, but the closest National Hot Rod Association event they've ever attended was at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

Sibley has been attending motorsports events since she was a kid and enjoys the "horsepower" behind the races.

"I don't know what it is, but it's an addicting thing," she said.

Many fans made the six- to eight-hour drive from New Brunswick, Canada, to catch the races.

Among them were Tim and Laurie Boone, who said they enjoy the "thrill" of drag racing and the atmosphere.

NHRA fans Jim and Marla Johnson also drove from New Brunswick.

"We usually catch most of our NHRA on television, so we don't get to see many live events. We do have some tracks in the Atlantic Provinces that we go to, but you don't see the caliber of racing like we're seeing here," Jim said.

Like other fans, he's drawn to the noise and the smell of the rubber.

"This is a chance for us to see high quality racing," his wife said.

Mark Hendron of Tewksbury, Mass., said he's always wanted to see the pros at an NHRA event but the closest they've ever come was to New Jersey.

"I think it's great that they finally came up here. This is something I've never seen in person before. I've only seen it on TV. I've never seen the pros doing a quarter-mile in three seconds," he said.

Hendron brought his sister-in-law, Annette Scott of Malden, Mass., along for races. This is the first time she's ever seen a drag race.

"I've done the NASCAR and the stock cars at Star, but I've never seen this. This is awesome," she said.

Don and Linda Newton of Torrington, Conn., often travel to NHRA races and were glad to finally have a big race in New England.

"Every other race we've gone to we've had to fly," Linda said.

While he enjoys watching, her husband also likes getting behind the wheel of his '67 Ford Mustang and racing in "nostalgia shows."

"It's an adrenaline rush. It's the most fun I've ever had, unless something breaks," he said, laughing.