In Presidio, Amateur Drag Racing Is Back

By Sally Beauvais

It’s Saturday night in West Texas. On a stretch of land outside of the border town of Presidio, cars are lining up two-by-two behind a straight, quarter-mile racing strip illuminated by stadium lights.

A summer storm has just passed through the area, but the weather’s calmed. The sun’s going down on the surrounding mountains as families tailgate out of their truck beds, lined up along the concrete track.

More than 20 drivers from across West Texas and Mexico raced in Presidio on Saturday night. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

Nearly a decade ago, this was a pretty typical scene — amateur drag racing was a popular pastime in Presidio. But over the years, race organizers started running out of steam and money. The track fell into disrepair, and it stayed that way — until tonight.

“Everybody’s been waiting for this, man,” says Alex Jimenez, Vice President of the unofficially dubbed Presidio International Racing Club. He finds the adrenaline hard to explain.

For the last two years, Jimenez has been spending pretty much all of his free time on this dragstrip — laying concrete and raising money.

“We started putting out of our own pockets,” says Jimenez. “We ran out of money from ourselves, and so we started asking for sponsors.”

Businesses from Odessa stepped up, and the club secured a $15,000 contribution from the Presidio Municipal Development District. A local plant even donated the concrete for the new strip.

As the project gained momentum, Jimenez met local teacher and coach Rob Romero — who’s now the club’s president — and together, along with the the rest of their crew, they made it happen.

It’s a scrappy operation — just a concrete strip, a commentator box and restroom facilities on a patch of desert north of town. The buildout isn’t finished yet, but it’s raceable. And tonight, 24 drivers have shown up ready to go. Their cars range from spotless vintage Corvettes to pickup trucks and beat up Mazdas.

Nearly a decade ago, Presidio’s drag racing track was a popular hangout. But over the years, race organizers started running out of steam and money. The track fell into disrepair, and it stayed that way — until tonight. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

“You can have ugly cars that have good motors that will kill everybody,” says Romero, as drivers behind him file into line to race.

Romero, an avid racer and car enthusiast, will race tonight. He’s already burned through a couple of runs down the track in his matte black 1962 Chevrolet Nova. Jimenez, however, won’t be racing. His son will.

“His name is Alan,” says Jimenez, tears streaming out from under his sunglasses. This rite of passage makes him emotional. “He just graduated this year, so he’s going to college and we started doing this together.”

Jimenez’s son is heading to school about four hours away in Odessa this fall, where he will study to become a diesel mechanic. One day, maybe he’ll take over his dad’s car shop in Presidio.

“I’ve been going every weekend to this track with my Dad,” says the younger Jimenez. “We’re the ones putting all the sweat and work into it.”

Alan Jimenez explains that tonight’s main event is bracket racing, which his dad calls the poor man’s racing sport — because you don’t need a nice car to win.

“You can have the biggest, baddest car but you can also lose to, you know, a Beetle Volkswagen,” he adds.

(Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

Bracket racing is a little more complicated than just straight-up racing.

Each round starts the same way any other drag race would: two cars pull onto the track. One by one, they rev their engines and spin their tires to warm them up for better traction — what’s a called a burnout.

Then, both drivers wait for their green light. Everyone’s already gone through a time trial ahead of the races, and the slower car gets the signal before the faster one.

The racer who clocks in closest to their trial time without exceeding it wins the round. The races continue this way until there’s one driver left, who goes home with a cash prize. Tonight’s first place earnings: $750 (collected through entry and gate fees).

But Rob Romero, the club’s president, says it’s really just about the love of the sport.

“It’s what we like to do,” says Romero. “We like to work on our toys and race. That’s it.”

Romero grew up watching his dad race. So for him, it’s always been a part of life. His father, John, traveled in all the way from San Marcos to be here tonight.

“It takes a lot of work and I’m amazed at the turnout that they have,” says John Romero.

(Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

Club organizers estimate over 300 people attended this first race. Drivers and spectators came in from neighboring Ojinaga, and from Midland and Odessa, bigger cities that have their own tracks. But many of them grew up in Presidio.

And they all agree, there’s some serious hometown pride in the air tonight.

“It’s a family deal,” says John Romero, as he watches his son Rob talk to drivers lining up to race. “Everybody is involved in one way or another. Everybody supports everybody. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the brotherhood.”

There are no women racing in Presidio tonight, but John Romero’s seven-year-old granddaughter is interested. Her parents say it’ll be a few more years until she’s allowed to try.

The next drag race in Presidio is slated for September.

About Sally Beauvais

Sally Beauvais reports on rural issues in Far West Texas. She also runs Marfa Public Radio's engagement efforts.
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