Along the road ahead, he felt a lump in his throat. As he grabbed the wheel, he could feel his fingers tingle and the excitement build up in his chest. The green light flashed, and he was off. The most delightful feeling of freedom and exhilaration came upon him. It was exuberant and wonderful, said Billie Geller.
Geller’s feelings while preparing to race down the quarter-mile drag strip Feb. 14 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Feb. 14 are unique — not because Geller, a 65-year old Vietnam War veteran, is a paraplegic who suffers from an incomplete spinal cord injury but because he got to race on a world-famous track. Unimpeded by his disability, he shared the experience with hundreds of other car aficionados who legally race each other during MOPAR Midnight Mayhem.
The event takes place 12 times a year at the speedway and allows any licensed driver to race with any street-legal vehicle.
“When the program started 14 years ago, it became a safe alternative to kids racing and getting killed behind the wheel,” former speedway spokesman John Bisci said. “Over time, it has attracted people of all ages and became a very successful program.”
MOPAR Midnight Mayhem has thus evolved from being an initiative to get teenagers to stop racing on the streets to providing a fun and safe opportunity for all car lovers to participate in something they enjoy.
“I can’t play basketball or go bowling because I am in a wheelchair most of the time,” Geller said. “But I am a very competent driver, so when I get in my car and race at the speedway, it feels just amazing. It feels like freedom.”
For most participants, the experience of driving at high speeds without worrying about breaking the law also represents freedom.
“The coolest thing about it is being able to get in the car and rush off as fast as I can without any worries of getting a ticket or hurting someone,” said car enthusiast Debra Fortini. “You can’t even describe the experience.”
Fortini and Geller belong to a group called the Challenger Owners of Las Vegas. They met up with other members at the MOPAR Midnight Mayhem on Feb. 14 to race for fun and bragging rights.
“It was awesome to be able to drive our cars to their fullest potential because we know we can race safely down the track,” Geller said. “We will be going back to race as a club all year long. It’s an awesome opportunity to get together.”
Even though club members have fast cars, Geller said one of the best things about MOPAR Midnight Mayhem is that people don’t have to have a “hot” car to race and enjoy the track.
“We have had all sorts of cars race here,” Bisci said, “from a brand-new Ferrari to a minivan. Even motorcycles and trucks can race here. It’s about the fun you can have, not about the car you drive.”
Fortini said everybody gets along and has fun regardless of whether they are novices to racing or are “real car guys.”
“I liked the environment,” she said. “We were rookies, but people were really friendly, and we had a lot of fun meeting new people and making new friends.”
For Fortini, bragging rights were the highlight of her MOPAR Midnight Mayhem experience as the night allowed her and her husband to settle a longtime battle of who is the fastest driver.
“We kind of had a thing going on since both of us have the same car, and we wanted to know who was the fastest driver,” said Fortini’s husband, Michael Humenski. “I raced her once and lost, then I tried to beat her again and lost again. She is now the queen of the drag strip.”
Even though he lost to his wife twice, Humenski said he had fun doing so as he lost in a world-famous track and not just on any road.
“If you are a car enthusiast, racing on a professional track is definitely something that’s on your bucket list,” he said. “There could not be a better atmosphere for people to have fun because it is safe, legal and controlled.”
Bisci added that no matter the car people drive or whether people win or lose, MOPAR Midnight Mayhem provides an experience for drivers to race on the same track as the cars from the National Hot Rod Association and drive in a professional racing setting.
“I go to the NHRA twice a year, and I know every driver,” Geller said, “so it was amazing in itself that I was on the same track as all the superstars. It was quite an honor.”
The next MOPAR Midnight Mayhem is set for 6 p.m. March 14 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Legal drag racing is open to all licensed drivers operating street-legal vehicles. All cars must have proof of insurance, and drivers younger than 18 must have a signed parental permission form. The cost is $5 for spectators and $15 for racers. For more information, visit lvms.com.
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter Maria Agreda at email@example.com.