Jay Allen has been firing on all cylinders lately.
Correction, the long, skinny ‘engine on a stick’ dragster the Utica resident has brought to the tracks has churned the pistons at a high level recently as Allen Racing Enterprises is headed to the Auto Club NHRA Finals Nov. 17 in Ponoma, Calif.
Allen, who has been racing professionally since 1980, earned a trip to the finals on Sept. 15 when he won the Midwest Division III drag race in Indianapolis.
“The race in Indianapolis, they take the top people from 16 different race tracks throughout the Midwest — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky,” said Allen, 58, retired union electrician. “They all come to Indianapolis once a year on the second week in September. It’s considered the NHRA Division III Bracket Finals.
“I was very fortunate to win that against the very best in the Midwest. I raced against a friend (Mitchell Vincent) of mine who lives in Byron. I know him and we both made it to the finals. I was fortunate enough to win the race.”
Not only did he win the Indianapolis race as an individual, but he helped the track he represents — Route 66 Raceway in Joliet — earn a team championship.
“The neat thing about this race is these are people I’ve competed against throughout the season at two different tracks,” Allen said. “We race at Byron Dragway and at Route 66 Raceway (Joliet). We would help each other, but we’re still competing against each other.
“At this particular race, we’re trying to compete together to beat the drivers from other tracks because it’s also a team championship. In the end, the track that I race for finished in first place for the first time ever. The track has been open since 1998. I was thrilled to be a part of it.”
Now Allen Racing Enterprises, which includes Allen, his wife Pam Allen and his mother Judy Allen — his father Gary Allen was involved until he passed away in 2003 — are excited to make the trip to California to compete and earn another big pay day.
Allen won $4,000 for the Midwest race, he’ll collect $3,000 in travel expenses once he arrives in Ponoma and if he wins the NHRA final he’ll receive another $5,000.
Besides the money, the trip to California means a lot to Jay.
“I was born in Santa Ana, which is only 35 miles from the track in Pomona,” Allen said. “I lived their for nine months and have never been back. My parents are from Illinois. My dad worked for a while in California and then they came back.
“This is like a return to my roots tour. I’m going to give it a name like, ‘back to the basics’ or something.”
Hopefully, there isn’t pre-race drama in Ponoma like the Allens experienced in Indianapolis.
Before the race, Jay Allen experienced an engine issue and received a first or second degree burn on his leg from the exhaust pipe.
“We arrived on Thursday and nothing happened. It was a normal day,” Jay Allen said. “But on Friday, I started the motor and it had some issues. I’m the type of person that when the car gets on the race track, we don’t like to pull out the wrenches and work on it. I don’t really make a lot of adjustments on the track.
“Well, the car had water in the oil — quite a bit of water — which are two things that shouldn’t be combined. We drove it up to make the practice run and I said, ‘No, it still has quite a bit of water in the reservoir.’ I didn’t make the practice round on Friday. I had about 10 friends come around and I just started handing them wrenches. We replaced the intake manifold gasket.
“I didn’t make a practice round until Saturday morning. Everybody else had three practice rounds. I proceeded to win two rounds Saturday night and then there were six more elimination rounds on Sunday with no practice rounds. I was able to prevail by being in the right place at the right time and having a little bit of luck.”
Jay Allen, a two-time champion at Route 66 and a Byron champion, is hoping the luck follows him.
A win at the Auto Club NHRA Final would add another satisfying, oil-slick layer to his racing resume.
“The weird thing is, when I was young (6-15) we would go to all the stock car tracks throughout the area,” Allen said. “I’ve been to Wisconsin, Missouri and all over to watch the stock car races. My parents were into that and they had friends who were into it.
“I ordered the Hot Rod Magazine and I was into the fast street cars. I bought a huge car — a big Plymouth Fury — before I turned 16. I found out, it was just a big car and not really appropriate for racing. After that, I bought a 1972 (Chevrolet) Nova and that’s the car I kept for seven years. That was my first race car and it’s still out there racing today.
“My whole life is surrounded by racing. When I decided to buy a house, I looked for a place with a garage and a place I could put a driveway. The trailer I have is 42-foot long, so I needed to have somewhere to put it. Some neighbors would frown on it, but out in Utica there aren’t any issues.”
Brandon LaChance is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.