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June 19. 2014 11:10PM

Allen Lessels on Motor Sports: Speed weekend in Epping features sibling rivalry


NHRA funny car driver Courtney Force during last year's New England Nationals at New England Dragway. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

EPPING -- Kyle Cultrera, his practice runs complete, backed the sleek black car in beside the blue one, next to the car hauler.

Dueling dragsters for speedy siblings. His and hers.

The black one with the orange stripe belongs to Kyle, 24, the bright blue one in the same paint scheme to Lauren, 28, his big sister.

They’re out of Eliot, Maine, and graduates of Marshwood High School there and this weekend they’re reveling in big-time drag racing’s stop at their home track, New England Dragway.

The National Hot Rod Association — featuring John Force and his fast-driving daughters — is back at the dragway, following up the inaugural Mello Yello Drag Racing New England Nationals a year ago.

“Last year was awesome,” Kyle Cultrera said. “Especially for us. We have so many family and friends who get to see us race when we’re here. They love it.”

The NHRA drew large crowds a year ago and will again this time around.

The Nationals are helping to kick off a busy summer — and particularly a busy and varied stretch over the next few weeks — for motor sports in the state.

There’s something for everyone.

A weekend full of motorcycle races — featuring the 91st Loudon Classic on Saturday afternoon — are being held the next few days at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

Next weekend, the Subaru Mount Washington Hillclimb returns to the Mount Washington Auto Road for the first time since 2011. David Higgins will be back to try and better the record he set of just under six minutes and 12 seconds — 6:11:54 to be precise — that year.

And then, three weeks from now, NASCAR brings Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson and the rest of its stars to NHMS for the 22nd straight summer stop on July 13, the Sprint Cup Camping World RV Sales 301.

Start your engines indeed.

The NHRA drew about 60,000 people over four days to New England Dragway last year and general manager Joe Lombardo expects the crowd to be up slightly this weekend.

Last year’s Saturday crowd was about 21,000 and Sunday was just under that.

“It was extremely successful,” Lombardo said. “I think it had a big impact on the local community as it was. They didn’t expect that large of an event coming in. People were staying in the hotels and using the restaurants.”

Traffic flow was an issue on Saturday, but was better on Sunday and Lombardo said track and local officials have been working on it since last year.

This is the second year of a 10-year deal between the NHRA and the dragway and there are a couple of five-year extensions available, too.

Lombardo likes the way things have started.

“The NHRA has been awesome to work with,” he said. “It’s an expensive proposition to go ahead and do things to make improvements. They know we’re committed over the long term to keep making improvements.”

Paving in front of the grandstand and on a back access road, as well as septic pump work, were among the improvements for this year.

The Cultreras make drag racing a family thing. They followed their father, Stephen, into drag racing. JoAnn, their mother, is part of the team, too.

Kyle and Lauren Cultrera compete in the Super Comp elimination division, which has bracket racing. The goal is to get down the track in exactly 8.9 seconds in their division.

Go too quick and you lose. Leave the starting line before the lights turn green and you’re out.

“The pros are first to the finish line wins,” Kyle Cultrera said.

“Here you can have a $15,000 car do just as good as a $100,000 car. It’s more the driver. You have to be good on the tree (the lights) and the car has to run clean. It levels the playing field.”

Kyle also races in the Comp division and won a couple of titles a year ago. He travels the country with the series. Lauren is points racing at New England Dragway, staying closer to home to keep an eye on a house she’s building.

Their support extends well beyond family, too.

An engineer out of Greenland, Dave MacLeod raced with the Cultreras’ parents in the ’80s.

When Stephen Cultrera mentioned Kyle was looking to get into racing, but couldn’t afford to, MacLeod stepped up.

“He was dying of cancer at that time and said all he wanted to do was have fun,” Kyle said. “He basically bought us a car.”

Cultrera got his car in 2009 and MacLeod died the next year, four years ago this weekend.

Kyle is racing that car this weekend.

It carries two names outside the driver’s cockpit: Dave MacLeod and Kyle Cultrera.

alessels@unionleader.com


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