Life In The Fast Lane
Team Yellow's Generations of Racing
Story: Todd McBain Photo: Nikole Kirby
Meagan Warner still has five years before she can legally drive along California’s roadways. But the seventh-grader at University Preparatory School in Redding is already an experienced driver with a license, who regularly speeds at over 70 mph. She doesn’t receive tickets for going fast, instead she’s awarded trophies.
Now in her third season of racing, the 11-year-old is currently second in points in the Junior Dragster Division at the Redding Drag Strip. On September 13 and 14 she will burn rubber, spit some smoke and pilot her methanol-fueled, yellow dragster an 1/8 of a mile down the strip targeting a time of 8.9 seconds. With the arrival of the NHRA Summit Racing Series at the RDS, the second-half of the 2008 season will begin for Meagan and the rest of Team Yellow Racing.
Three generations, four yellow cars, and five Warners make up Warner Enterprises Inc.’s Team Yellow. In 1997, Meagan’s grandfather Paul “got bit by the bug” and began drag-racing. A car affliction from his youth always remained in his heart. Growing up in Sacramento, the President of WEI recalls his early driving days were “straight out of American Graffiti.” After spending years around the strip, he decided it was finally time to pilot a ride.
Long, sleek red flames engulf Paul’s yellow 1927 Ford Roadster. It’s Chevy small-block engine pushes 400 horses. With a sticker reading “Old Guys Rule!“ in the cockpit of his tough-looking bullet, the 65-year-old has covered 1/4 miles in 10.60 seconds, roaring down the strip at 127 mph. In 2005, his son, Eric, began racing in a yellow 1983 Chevy Camero. In 2006, Meagan began racing a yellow junior dragster. This season, her younger sister, Maddy, began racing. She drives her big sister’s old ride, and Meagan now has a new one. When it came time to select a color for her new ride, Meagan says, “naturally mine had to be yellow.”
At eight-years-old, Maddy is one of the youngest racers at RDS, which is the oldest continually-operated NHRA drag strip. “I saw my sister doing it, and it looked like fun,” she says. Her father, Gary, adds, “she saw her sister getting cheers from the crowd and thought it was cool.”
Meagan and Maddy line-up against each other on occasion. Sometimes earlier in the day than they’d like. “You always want to go against your friend at the end of the day,” Paul says. The sibling-rivalry is mild between the girls. Its more enjoyable for them than competitive. “I can’t imagine not racing with my sister,” Meagan says about her favorite part of racing. “It just makes it more fun.”
Smiling, Uncle Eric says the best part is “seeing the ‘win’ light at the other end (of the strip).” Paul smirks, nods, and agrees.
Drivers can begin racing when they turn eight years old. Each of the youth’s age divisions limits drivers to certain speeds. For eight- to nine-year-olds, the fastest time they can drive an 1/8 of a mile is in 12.9 seconds, where the speed ranges from 45-50 mph. For 10- to 12-year olds, dragsters can get down the strip in 8.9 seconds, with speeds ranging from 70-75 mph. And for the 13- to 14-year olds, they can clear the distance no faster than 7.9 seconds, driving up to 75 mph.
Gary, Team Yellow’s “crew chief”, is very comfortable with his daughters racing down the strip in the narrow, rocket-like dragsters only inches from the ground. “The safety is amazing,” he says. “I think its safer than them playing team sports, in ways. Everything has to be certified – the helmet, everything in the car… I feel like it’s a very safe sport, despite the speed.”
In three years, Gary’s five-year-old son, Garrison, will officially join the team. “He’s the pick-up man,” says his grandmother, and Team Yellow’s cook, Donna. “He’s waiting in the wings… and counting down the years.” Meagan adds that he thinks the girls’ cars are his. “Yeah, he thinks the girls are just taking care of them for him,” Donna says.
With Garrision’s driving debut on the distant horizon, Team Yellow’s sights are set on the immediate horizon. With the second-half of the 2008 season nearing, the squad is attempting to end it strong to follow up an impressive 2007 campaign. Paul captured the super-pro division championship, Eric claimed the sportsman division title, and Meagan finished third in the juniors. Entering the final stretch of this season, Paul is second in points, Eric is fourth (however, he’s only one point behind the two-way tie for second), Meagan is second, and Maddy is fifth, in their respective divisions.
More than before, support runs deep at Warner Corner at RDS, Team Yellow’s dedicated pit area. For Paul’s generosity over the last 30 years, RDS’s president, Bob Lidell dedicated the corner to him and his family. Lidell and his staff awarded “The Waterman,” a plaque, at the end of last season, recognizing him as a “Cornerstone of the strip” and a “spiritual leader”.
An integral figure at the strip and the Team Yellow leader, Paul has received his share of cheers over the years. But, now, they are louder than ever, humbling him in the process. “The girls are more popular at the track than me - they get the loudest cheers,” says the proud grandfather with a smile on his face. “The family really got involved when they began racing. Now, they bring everyone out.”