"I guess I'm called Crazy John because my drag-racing cars seem to do crazy things," said 29-year-old John Paris of Washington. "It started when I was racing a '57 Chevrolet station wagon. It could do a wheelstand because its bite and acceleration were so good.
"Then, one race a tire fell off. Another time, the wagon slewed to the left almost into the stands. Next week, it would go off the right," he recalled. "I always kept my foot on it, the power on. I even won some races once I got the thing straightened out. Actually, I'm flattered to have a nick-name."
Paris is really a solid citizen. He operates White House Tours, a business started by his father. After tinkering with schedules and engines all day for his fleet of a dozen buses, he tinkers with his new drag racer at night. "It's relaxation. The bus engines are business," he points out.
The car is painted red, white and blue and called "Yankee, Doodle Dandy." "My dad really named it," said Paris. "I had that wagon all painted up and a horn on it playing 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and called it the 'Band Wagon.' But Dad had seen a movie about George M. Cohan and insisted it be named 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'."
That horn is a secret weapon. "I toot it now and then in the staging area," he explains. "Sometimes that psychs out my opponent; breaks their concentration. One night, two of them red-lighted (false-started) against me and lost and I managed to beat the third driver in the final. The horn helps."
A drag racer for 10 years, Paris is starting slowly this season with a new car. The current "Dandy" is a plastic-bodied, featherweight Mustang "funny" car since the body is a sham. The 460-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine is for real and will shoot the car at 150 miles per hour down the quarter-mile straightaway from a standing start.
"We've only run this car a few times," he said, explaining his low position in the Super Pro class point standings. "Crazy things still happen, though. In my second race with it, a hose broke and sprayed fluid under the back wheels. I almost skidded off the track."
Super Pro is a "run what you brung" class for any vehicle on four wheels that can break 10 seconds for the quarter-mile. All cars meet on even terms in the match races because of the system of dialing in a car's handicap.
"Before each match, each driver dials in the elapsed time he figures it will take him for the quater-mile, "explained Paris. "The slower car gets a head start based on these handicap times.
"If a driver beats his estimated time, he is disqualified," he went on. "If he is much slower than his handicap time, he's likely to lose the race. The track is in running consistenly on your dial."
The system keeps the racing close and allows drivers to field competitive cars for a relatively small investment. "say, $3,000-$4,000 if you shopped around for parts," Paris estimated. "Even stock parts off the shelf are adequate in this class."
Money can still win races. To get maximum horsepower from his engine, he has special cylinder heads costing about $1,800. "Stock parts are less expensive but will cost you, perhaps, 30 horsepower," he noted. "Used heads are cheaper but with an even grater loss of power."
The appeal of the class is that. "It all evens up when you dial in that handicap," said Paris. Like the telephone, wrong numbers don't pay off.