On the fast track

Nowlin brothers learning responsibility as they race dragsters

Twelve-year-old Caleb Nowlin may not be able to legally drive, but he is getting pretty good at timing the green lights on the drag racing strip. The Whitewater youth finished one round shy of the Mopar NHRA Junior Drag Racing League Western Conference Finals recently. Nowlin and his younger brother, Michael, work to maintain their cars and to pay for entry into races.

Eight-year-old Michael Nowlin started racing this year and recently reached the semifinals in the Western Conference finals age 8-9 group, finishing third.

Fourteen-year-old Charlie Ruckman has tasted success in two series this season, the Division 7 Junior Dragster and the Junior Competition Dragster Series.


GJ teen in running for junior titles

Grand Junction’s Charlie Ruckman, 14, reached the final of the Western Conference Finals age 14 division. He might have won it if he didn’t jump the start too quick.

“If he wasn’t a little nervous on it, we ran our numbers,” his father, Terry Ruckman said. “We dialed 7.99, and it ran a 7.99. We would’ve won if he didn’t jump the green light.”

Charlie has been racing since he was 10 years old. This year, he’s competing in the junior competition class in addition to the junior dragster class.

Drivers must be at least 14 years old to race in the junior comp class. Cars average near 100 mph in that class, but can’t go faster than 6.9 elapsed time on a quarter-mile track.

“It was my uncle’s, so it’s cool he lets us run it,” Charlie said. “We’re pretty blessed we get to do that. I get to do it with my uncle and my cousin, which is even better.”

The first race Charlie did in a junior comp car in January in Phoenix, he placed second.

“He likes it, and we get to travel the Division 7 circuit,” Terry said. “We’ve been to Fallon, Nev., Sacramento, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz., San Diego and Las Vegas.

“It’s a big commitment. We’re going at least five to six days when we go to places like California.”

Terry works in real estate and is able to arrange his work schedule to accommodate Charlie’s racing schedule.

Charlie is in the hunt for a NHRA Division 7 Junior Dragster and Junior Competition Dragster Series title this season.

He’s tied for second in the junior comp car and fifth in the junior dragster class.

— Allen Gemaehlich

Caleb and Michael Nowlin have learned a lot about racing and responsibility.

The Whitewater boys do more than race their junior dragsters. They have to do the maintenance and earn some money to pay for their entry fees.

It’s worth it for the boys.

“Once you get the engine in and tuned up, all you have to do before every run is check the air pressure in the tires, put fuel in it and after every race is done, change the oil,” Caleb said. “We do chores, so we can get money to pay at least half our entry fee every race. If we don’t keep our grades up or do our work, we don’t get to race.”

The boys have to pay 50 percent of their entry fees, their father, Richard Nowlin said.

“It does give some responsibility to them, too,” he said. “It gives them a sense of ownership. They’ve got to work for it.

“When they do good, it’s a special feeling. When they’re on the line, it’s all them. It does make you feel good about that.”

Caleb, 12, finished one round shy of the Mopar NHRA Junior Drag Racing League Western Conference Finals recently.

“It was pretty good,” Caleb said. “The car was consistent. My lights were pretty good. Michael’s was consistent. He made it all the way to the semifinals and got third place. The way my car was running, I swear I could’ve easily won the entire thing.

“In the third or fourth round I got squirrely in the burnout box. As soon as it hooked up, it threw the chain, and we couldn’t get it back on in time. I was DQed (disqualified). The car started going sideways. I couldn’t get it to straighten back out again. As soon as the tires got out of the box, hooked up and got traction, it threw the chain. Those cars aren’t made to turn, and it threw the chain.”

Caleb won his first Wally trophy last year in the National Hot Rod Association Junior Dragster League Challenge at Western Colorado Dragway.

Michael, 8, started racing this year.

“When Caleb started, I really wanted to start,” Michael said. “I thought about it. He kept telling me stuff, like basic stuff about racing. It’s really fun.”

Michael reached the semifinals in the Western Conference finals age 8-9 group and posted the closest elapsed time to his dial-in time for the age 8-9 group. He ran a 13.161 elapsed time on a 13.15 dial-in. He received some prize money for it.

“To be honest, I don’t really care,” Caleb said of his brother’s immediate success. “It’s his first year of racing, you’ve got to be proud of him. You can’t be mad about it at all.”

With both boys racing, Richard had to give up his racing for now.

“It’s kind of a family thing,” Richard said. “I’ve slowed down. Mine’s sitting in the garage. There’s nothing wrong, it’s ready to go. It’s part of getting older. It’s a lot less stressful. It’s a different kind of fun. It’s enjoyable doing it with your kids. When they do good, you feel it, too.”

Western Colorado Dragway’s Youth Alternatives Junior Drag Racing team won the team spirit award and received an award for best appearing track at the Western Conference Finals.


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