Drag racing event roars into Rantoul this weekend

RANTOUL — During the week, he is a intensive care neonatal respiratory therapist in California. During select weekends of the year, he operates a drag racing operation in Rantoul and two other locations in the country.

“I’ve always had a fascination for fast cars,” said Tony Lopez, owner-operator of No Fly Zone Midwest, which will shut down one of the runways at the Rantoul airport this weekend.

The need for speed got him started.

“I’ve got a Porsche 911 Turbo, 700 horsepower. My group of friends had some nice cars, and we got to talking and thought it would be cool to race them neck and neck for as long a course as we can that’s not a quarter mile,” Lopez said.

It seems there are plenty of like-minded people in various parts of the country. Lopez has no trouble getting people with fast cars to come out and race them on the half-mile track at the Rantoul airport.

He also operates No-Fly Zone drag races in Arizona and California.

“This brings out a lot of people,” said Eric Vences, Rantoul airport manager. “There are a little over 100 cars that typically race.”

The cars must be preregistered as there are only a select number of available slots.

More and more the word is getting out.

Lopez said the No Fly Zone event is growing. This will mark the fourth time he has held the drag races in Rantoul (he will also hold one in the fall), and each time the numbers have increased — both in racers and crowd.

A total of 125 racers are signed up to run their cars on Saturday, and another 105 on Sunday.

In Arizona, Lopez holds three of the events each year because “their winters are kind of laughable,” he said, with one of the races in December.

While Lopez says he is a “one-man show,” he has plenty of help. He will fly in 11 family and friends to pitch in with the Rantoul races.

“We fly in and out of O’Hare. After Sunday, we stay the night in Rantoul, then go to Chicago and unwind for two days” before flying back to California.

Lopez uses an open-run format, meaning there are no brackets and no classes.

“You just get in line and you’re ready to race,” he said.

There is no tournament format, no trophies. Lopez said that tends to make for a friendly vibe.

“That kind of keeps egos and heavy competition out of it,” the race coordinator said. “It’s all personal best. We get a lot of shops come out to test their builds and do it in a fairly safe environment.”

Fire department, police department and ambulance services will all be on hand.

Some of the vehicles are quite fancy. There will be Ferraris, Lamborghinis and a 1966 Ford GT40.

And some of the cars tend to be quite pricey and quite fast. Some even rather old.

The fastest car at one of Lopez’s events — a Lamborghini that hit 221 mph.

The most expensive one was a McLaren 650S. Price tag: $300,000.

And the oldest, a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger.

And not all of the vehicles are four-wheelers. Even motorcycles get in the act.

“On Sunday we’ll have cars versus bikes,” he said. “Some people are a little uneasy with it.”

To keep things neat, there are  no drag-style starts on the runway.

Don’t want to mark up the airplane surface. The FAA and IDOT tend to frown on that.

As a result, the majority of the races are rolling starts.

But those that don’t use a rolling start, start “on the black pad portion” before the runway.

The races will run from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. both days.

Vences said the races take place on runway 27 — an east-west runway at the airport.

The general public is welcome to turn out. There is a spectator entry fee. Food will be available on site.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

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