I’ve got the bug: Volkswagen Mania draws plenty of drivers

Eddie Radillo, left, of Denver in his 1963 VW Beetle and Earnie Crowley of Albuquerque, N.M., in a 1962 VW Karmann Ghia both pop wheelies as they take off from the starting line during the Volkswagen Mania races at the Western Colorado Dragway on Saturday.

Matt Rarick never imagined he’d have so much fun driving a Volkswagen Beetle.

Like most teenage boys, he dreamed of driving a big muscle car, but ended up with a bug. Now, he races one.

“My first car was a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle,” Rarick said. “When you think of your first car, you think of all these big muscle cars. I was a little bummed at first. I started driving it, got me a few speeding tickets, even with a little bitty motor. I started building my own, now I’ve got the bug.”

The Denver 33-year-old is one of 28 drivers who competed in the 22nd annual Volkswagen Mania races Saturday at Western Colorado Dragway. The drivers were separated into two classes, VW Quick and VW Sport. Drivers in the VW Quick class must run 12.9 seconds or faster down the quarter-mile track.

“This is the biggest amount of cars we’ve ever had, which is a surprise in a downturn economy,” event organizer Eric Madson said. “People are staying regional. I don’t think they’re traveling to California anymore. They’re staying in a certain radius.”

There were several drivers from the Front Range, a few from Utah and four from Albuquerque, N.M., participating in the event, but it wasn’t part of the Volkswagen Professional Racing Association points series. It was simply a grassroots invitational race.

For many of the drivers, that’s all they want.

“VW drivers are a small crowd and we stick together,” said Dean Russell of Albuquerque. “We keep in touch with each other. This is the only time, other than on the Internet, we get to hang out and have a good time. Eric puts on a good show. The track has been great. We do a barbecue the night before and get together for breakfast Sunday morning.”

Russell came up for the event with his father-in-law, brother-in-law and a friend.

Stephen Randall, 26, of Grand Junction has raced for 10 years. He’s raced his dad’s 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, but prefers his 1958 Volkswagen Beetle.

“I think it’s a lot of the group hanging out and having fun,” Randall said.

Madson took three runs in his modified 1967 VW Karmann Ghia convertible and posted the fastest time in time trials (9.41 seconds at 153 mph), but didn’t run in the finals because of mechanical concerns.

He once held the record for “World’s Fastest Volkswagen,” but has since fallen to fourth place. Madson has zipped across the finish line in 8.67 seconds at 169 miles per hour. The fastest time, Madson said, is 7.97 seconds at 175 mph.


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