Benny "The Bomb" Koske calmly rolled his late model car onto the Maryland International Raceway track and strapped himself in. Hundreds of other drivers did the same thing Saturday night at the 21st annual Jet Car Nationals, but Koske was the only one with 15 sticks of dynamite in the car with him.

After a countdown from 10, the car exploded into a large ball of fire and Mechanicsville firefighters rushed out to stop the blaze. A horrible accident? Nope. The Daytona Beach, Fla., resident knew about the five sticks each in the trunk, back seat and under the hood.

Some might think Koske has some mental issues to sort out. But he doesn't.

"People say I don't have both oars in the water," said Koske, who noted that the idea to blow up a car he was sitting in came to him while at a Las Vegas bar. "But it was either this or get a job."

Almost 8,000 fans turned out for the Jet Car Nationals--which is mainly an exhibition--and even though a storm that came in about 10:30 p.m. forced the event to be completed early, the crowd still was treated to quite a show.

In another of several special performances, Jimmy Neilson drove his limo onto the track and approached the starting line with nothing special under the hood--but with a jet engine strapped onto the back. Neilson drove down the quarter-mile track at 217 mph in the white stretch limo, but he said he can go much faster.

"It's like driving a Navy fighter without the fighter," said Neilson as he packed his parachute into the back of the limo for his second run. "You're riding on a missile and nothing can match it. We're adrenaline rush junkies."

Neilson grew up in Kona, Hawaii, but moved to Newport Beach, Calif., to start a limo service about 15 years ago.

"I was just sitting in the limo, sipping a cocktail and said, 'I'm going to put a jet in this damn thing,' " said Neilson, who makes appearances all around the country racing his limo.

He hit 391 mph on the Las Vegas Freeway in January, and officials in Charlotte are closing down sections of the International Airport next month for Neilson's exhibition. At the end of the year, he will try to break the 400 mph barrier in China; Neilson and his new crew chief, Gordie DiBattisto Jr., were selling shirts at Saturday's event that had "Speed Limit 400" printed on them.

As far as actual competition Saturday, the performance of the night was turned in by jet truck national champion Bob Motz of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Motz broke the track record he set more than four years ago by traveling down the track in 7.599 seconds--an average speed of about 210 mph.

The jet engines that Motz and Neilson put on their vehicles are usually older military surplus models that can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 each. Motz said that he and his son, Scott, who works on the truck with his dad, get requests to appear all around the country, but try to stay on the East Coast.

"We have dates to go out west, but it's just too far," said the soft-spoken Motz, who was wearing a T-shirt that said "The Original Jet Truck" with a picture of his black Kenworth truck coming out of a fireball.

In the Frantic 4 Open Body class, Paul Harris of Temple Hills drove his red, white and blue "Yankee Doodle Dandy" car to the season victory. Harris was the owner of the car last year when Todd Connick drove the dragster to victory. This year they switched positions.

Harris's Yankee Doodle Dandy actually blew a fuse on his run and he lost the event, but his points in the previous nine races were enough to put him over the top. All Harris had to do Saturday was qualify to take home the trophy for the second straight year.

"You got a lot to look at during the race, and you're not really there to enjoy the ride," Harris said. "But it's definitely a rush."

Track Notes

Two of the three rounds of the Pro Show were completed. In the sportsman classes, the second round of Super Pro was almost over. Two rounds of Heavy Eliminator were completed. Only the first round and reentry were completed in Motorcycle, and the third round of Junior Dragster was finished. All purses were split among the drivers left in the competition. This is a completed event.

CAPTION: Robert Beavlien, 54, of Enfield, Ct., fires up his vehicle, "Eastern Raider," during the 21st annual Jet Car Nationals, held Saturday at Maryland International Raceway.

CAPTION: Rick Stambaugh, 49, of Fredericksburg, Va., drives an altered Ford Model T, one of numerous modified race cars at the event, which drew about 8,000 fans.

CAPTION: Ernie Bogue Jr., of Oakdale, Ct., fires up and takes off in "Runnin' With the Devil," a '98 Oldsmobile Cutlass.