OIL, GREASE AND AN APPLE MARTINI
As many race fans will tell you, there is simply nothing like the sights, sounds and smells of a drag strip on the weekend.
From the whiff of nitro, to the rush of 300 miles per hour all topped off with an ice cold Apple Martini.
Okay, so maybe an Apple Martini may not exactly be the drink of choice for most race fans, it is however a very popular drink at the upscale Dimmi Bar and Trattoria restaurant in downtown Toronto.
So what does the fine dining of the Dimmi Bar have to with drag racing?
As it turns out, a lot actually.
The Dimmi Bar and Trattoria is owned and operated by one of Pro Modified racings top players, R2B2 Racing wheelman Ray Commisso.
Driving a '67 Camaro on the weekends and running the upscale Trattoria during the week, Commisso has quite a bit on his plate -- both literally and figuratively -- as he tries to manage the two operations at the same time.
From serving up Rigatoni Al Gorgonzola and Cosmopolitans during the week to serving up wins and world records on the weekends, it is safe to say that Commisso is a busy man both on and off the track.
"The restaurant is another world compared to what we do out here. I have been blessed with the restaurant and to be surrounded by such a great crew," Commisso said. "The transition between the two was difficult at first, but has become easier over the years. As we speak my partner is working right now while I get to come out here and play."
On top of running the highly popular dinner destination, Commisso is currently in the top five in points driving for both the IHRA and NHRA with a win coming in both sanctioning bodies this season.
Commisso claimed a victory at the season opening IHRA Mardi Gras Nationals in Baton Rouge and also claimed a victory in Englishtown on the NHRA side and holds track and national records with both organizations.
"The thing that makes this easy for me to do is the people I am surrounded with. We have Al Billes who builds the motors and tunes the cars and then you have a great supporting cast with my crew and of course the great sponsor in Roger Burgess, Pro Care RX and R2B2 Motors," Commisso said. "It is a great atmosphere and it is a great team. I feel lucky to be able to do what I do."
And as difficult as it is to believe, Commisso said he has learned a lot in his restaurant over the years that actually carries over to the track.
"I kind of relate them to one another. When you are busy at the restaurant you have to do 10 things at once and make sure things are running properly, customers are happy and the servers and kitchen guys are doing their jobs," Commisso said. "When I come out here I kind of relate the same thing. When I come out here there are a lot of little things I need to do to be on my game and the restaurant has helped me balance a busy plate."
The Dimmi Bar and Trattoria is located at 140 Cumberland Street in downtown Toronto.
WHERE DID THAT COME FROM
On most race weekends Mitch King's job is, first and foremost, to help his rookie driver have the best event possible.
From helping set up the car to giving advice on getting down the track, King enjoys his role as mentor to whoever is driving his second car at the time.
As for his second job, well King can also be found making laps during race weekends -- wheeling a 300 mile per hour Top Fuel dragster alongside teammate and rookie Del Cox Jr.
King, who fields two cars in IHRA Top Fuel competition, drives one and mentors Cox in the other and through five races this season he has both cars firmly in the top five in points. While Cox has been the star of the operation thus far with one win while battling Bruce Litton for the points lead, King has shown he is no slouch either, making quite a stir at the IHRA's last stop at the Rocky Mountain Nationals in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Claiming just one round win in his first four tries, King stunned the field last weekend with a shocking first round victory over Cox followed by another upset of Terry McMillen, placing King in his first career final against Litton.
While King wasn't able to grab his first career victory, he was able to garner some extra attention to his operation and make a statement that his car can be just as competitive as the other top contenders.
"We had to go out there and race and it just so happened that I had the better car on that day on that track," King said. "It was great for AFD (Alberta Fuel Distributors) who are long time supporters to help us up there. We needed to go out there and put on a good show for the fans and for all of the people who have helped us out. It was a great weekend."
While it was a great weekend for King, his stunning first round upset of his second car left quite a sting in the garage as King's victory helped Litton pull ahead by 84 points in the Top Fuel points chase.
"I thought I was going to get my head chopped off when I got back to the pits over here. Everybody was mad at me," King said. "I told them we are going to race and they thought I was lying.
"But I did give him lane choice. I had lane choice and I gave him the good lane so I blamed it on them. They should have been able to get their car down the track."
While the upset definitely left some mouths gaping and slightly hurt his own cars bid for a title, King admits that it isn't always about Cox. While he loves helping his young drivers succeed, he is also a competitor first and foremost and when he pulls into his lane it is all about getting to the finish line first no matter who the opponent.
"I wouldn't mind winning a race or two or a championship myself," King said. "We feel like we have a car that can contend with the best of them. As it turned out Bruce and Richard seemed to have a handle on it at Edmonton, but a lot of the big horsepower cars were having trouble getting down the track. That is where my car does well, when there is a marginal track so that was my day to shine."
Now all eyes will once again be on King and Cox, especially if they meet up on the track once again.
"We are here to try to win this race with Del or myself and we are going to go out and give it our best effort."
LOOKING FOR NO. 1
Pete Berner currently sits just three points out of first place in the IHRA Elite Motorsports Pro Stock standings.
But that isn't quite good enough for the defending champ.
With his sights set on a third Pro Stock world title, Berner is thinking this weekend may be the perfect time to make his move and put himself on top of the standings. Berner made it to the finals of this event last year, a key move in his bid for the 2008 world championship and with this weekend marking the halfway point of the '09 Nitro Jam season, what better time to make a move than now.
"We have been very fortunate with this race team, in the past and so far this year. A lot of that comes from the guys on this team that work incredibly hard and keep us running with the best," Berner said. "We've had some curve balls every now and then in trying to figure out our new engine program, but I am excited with what we've put together.
"We've got what it takes to win a championship and being only three points out is a great position to be in halfway through the year. Hopefully we will be in that top spot instead of chasing after Grand Bend."
Berner, who always enjoys racing against his own personal marks just as much as against the competition, is hoping to topple both this weekend.
"Half of the fun of this thing is in improving your own game. That's why I enjoy having my own engine program so much. We get to do our best and then start over again and see if we can reach new heights," Berner said. "That's what we're always looking for. That's what we will be looking for again this weekend."
Tradition is an important part of family life, along with passing those traditions to the next generation.
Although still in their teens, Lisa and Monica Spiering have grown up around race tracks, and have always been at the races while father Carl Spiering progressed his way from street-based cars to racing in the popular Pro Modified class.
But during the past two years, Carl has spent more time with his daughters, nurturing them into the world of drag racing as he stepped back from competing himself to teach and mentor.
While they are not seasoned racers like their father, Lisa, now 18, is competing in the Top Dragster class, while 15-year old Monica is running in the Junior Dragster 790 class.
And for this year, Spiering, who won the IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals in 2008, the IHRA ACDelco Canadian Nationals in 2005, and the IHRA Torco Race Fuels Pro Modified Shootout in 2005, has entered the Top Sportsman arena with a new Chevy Cobalt.
For this weekend's 10th annual IHRA MOPAR Canadian Nationals, the Carl Spiering Motorsports Team will be prominent as all three will be competing in this major drag racing event.
With the support of Eaton's Electrical Business (Canadian Operations) and the Eaton Powerware products for the team, Lisa, who will soon begin her post-secondary studies in Biomedical Science at the University of Waterloo, will be driving her 2005 Undercover Dragster, powered by a 522-cubic inch ERD (Engine Research & Development) engine.
While grade 11 student Monica will be driving her Junior Dragster at Grand Bend this weekend, in the near future she is planning to step up to a Spitzer Enterprises 235" Dragster powered by a 565-cubic inch ERD engine which John Weima is debuting this weekend in the Top Dragster class.
The Cobalt of the elder Spiering is a Jerry Bickel Race Cars product, with a 737-cubic inch ERD powerplant.
Spiering, one of the initial founders of the Ontario-based Pro Modified Racing Association in 2004, and a regular competitor, with PMRA event wins to his credit as well as setting the eighth-mile elapsed time record (3.970 seconds), now competes in the newly-formed Quick 32 Sportsman Series for Top Sportsman and Top Dragster cars. Daughter Lisa is also a regular in the new Quick 32 Sportsman Series presented by NAPA Auto Parts with her dragster, and both will also be racing in selected IHRA national events.