published Friday, November 9th, 2012

Optimist drag strip continues schedule

Chattanooga Police Officer Joe Warren leaves the line during a practice run at the Brainerd Optimist Dragstrip in 2010.
Chattanooga Police Officer Joe Warren leaves the line during a practice run at the Brainerd Optimist Dragstrip in 2010.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Racing will continue at the Brainerd Optimist Drag Strip after the accident that killed longtime track worker Johnny Walker last week.

Steve Farrow, an Optimist Club member and consultant to strip manager Leonard Lawson, said after a meeting Thursday with the fire marshal that everything went well and the facility on Scruggs Road will be open tonight as usual for "test and tune" and Saturday for racing. The gates will open Saturday at 3 p.m.

As in the past, competition likely will continue as long as the high temperature on a given Saturday is over 50 degrees. One scheduled event is the Catoosa County Stockings of Love night on Dec. 1; it's a fundraiser for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

"We just had to make sure everything was in line and we were ready to open," said Farrow, who took over operation of the strip this year but later stepped aside because of time needed for his businesses. "That was just a freak accident -- one of those sad things that happens. Nobody's holding anybody responsible."

Walker was fatally injured during last Saturday's annual "Dragging' for Toys" charity event when Hillary Mason accidentally backed over him at high speed in a dragster borrowed from Lawson. Authorities have said charges are not expected.

Farrow has participated as a driver and other roles at the strip for years. Walker, he said, "was not just a worker but a good friend of mine. He had a heart as big as anybody's."

An irony of the incident, Farrow said, was that no one at the drag strip was more conscious of the various possibilities of danger than Walker, who "always was looking out for everybody else's safety and making sure that people were out of harm's way."

Walker's death, Farrow added, was a sobering reminder "of how quickly things can turn bad and how we've got to pay attention and get each other's back at all times. This is a big loss for his family and the racing community -- for all of us."

The drag strip had opened late this year because of the change in management and a number of renovations, but it had enjoyed renewed popularity with more races and a greater variety of competition each Saturday night.

"The weather cooperated and we tried some new things that seem to be working," Farrow said. "We started a new bike class, for one. And the club has a lot of big plans. I'm looking forward to next year.

"We're sure going to miss Johnny, though."

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