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Drag racing draws crowds at Kingdon Airport

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Posted: Saturday, September 10, 2011 4:42 pm | Updated: 6:44 am, Mon Sep 12, 2011.

The sun beat down on the stretch of asphalt at Kingdon Airport, and the ground began to tremble from the gutteral vibrations of the drag racer's engine before it even came into sight.

Leaning over the metal railings, bystanders with beers and hot dogs in hand strained to see the vehicle and try to catch a glimpse of the driver, Jeff Atamian.

But before anyone could really get a good look, the engine roared.

A Westinghouse J-34 jet engine on the back of the drag racer ignited, sending flames and smoke as far back as 40 feet.

Atamian throttled the engine four times.

Atamian and his racer, named "The Beast," were completely engulfed in black dust and debris.

The plume grew bigger, the only visible part of the car from the engine jet's flames.

The sound was so loud, it felt as if the air was punching onlookers.

One man grabbed his chest, spilling his beer. Though his laugh was drowned by the blast of the car as it took off down the track, he mouthed one word: "Wow."

The crowd could not see Atamian take off. The cloud of exhaust fumes and dust was too thick.

But about a quarter of the way down the track, he suddenly emerged from the smoke, booking it down the quarter-mile drag strip at speeds faster than 200 mph.

Suddenly, a tremendous boom echoed in the air as Atamian's two parachutes, each 16 feet in diameter, shot from the back of his drag racer to slow him down.

The crowd was silent for a second, stunned at the stealth and speed of Atamian's Beast.

Then almost in chorus the crowd erupted in cheers, children and adults clapping and hollering.

Meet 'The Beast'

Jeff Atamian, of Madera, said he fell in love with drag racing in 1967. He was 12 years old and he was in Fresno, looking at his first set of jet engine drag racers.

"I took one look at them, and I was hooked," he said.

A self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, Atamian sells various car parts for trucks and big-rigs by day.

But for six sweet vacation weeks each year, Atamian pulls out his beloved "Beast," which he has had since 1995. It takes him across the western part of the United States, from California to Utah to Washington.

"The Beast" lives up to its name.

With a jet engine that boasts 10,000 hp and a thrust of 6,000 pounds, "The Beast" can reach speeds of up to 348 mph.

The engine also has an intake of 12,500 cubic feet per second, the equivalent of sucking the air out of a six-room house in one second.

With only fireproof pants and a helmet between him and the engine, Atamian said the close proximity is preferable so he can be "one with the car."

And while the brute strength and top speeds of a drag racer like "The Beast" may deter some away, Atamian said the worst part about racing is stopping.

"I get to the end of the track, and I just want to put my foot on the gas pedal and keep going," he said. "If you don't feel like your eyes are popping out of your face, then you aren't (racing) right."

Miss Kingdon

Brittany Norman, 18, just graduated from Lodi High School.

And she is already an award-winning drag racer.

For Norman, racing is a family affair.

Her grandfather, father and brother Shayne, have raced at Kingdon. Last year, Norman got to sit in the passenger's seat of her father's car as he reached speeds of over 100 mph down the quarter-mile drag.

And even though racing "pretty much in (her) blood," it was not until that drive last year when Norman knew she wanted to have racing be more than just a hobby.

On Saturday, Norman had already run and won two races with her 1975 Trans Am, which she proudly says she takes care of all on her own. She even built the engine with the help of her father.

This year, Norman was allowed to placed a sticker on her car after receiving permission from event coordinators that reads "Miss Kingdon."

As one of the only girls racing this year, and because of her family's legacy at the track, event coordinator Kelly Arnaiz said she and her husband, David, "loved" having her be able to put "Miss Kingdon" on her Trans Am.

"I plan on doing this the rest of my life," Norman said. "If I could make this a profession, I would."

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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