By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer
ROSS TOWNSHIP - At the entrance to Tri-State Dragway, signs say "Speed Limit, 10."
But just beyond the ticket booth, tires smoke. Engines rev and roar. The air is thick with exhaust fumes, burnt rubber and an electrifying enticement:
There's no speed limit on this quarter-mile straightaway.
It's a legal means of satiating the need for speed, says Don Louden, 40, of Mount Healthy.
"I've been around this since I was 9, and I never had the desire to go out and do this on the streets," says Louden, whose parents own Tri-State, one of several area dragways that allow drivers - some as young as 8 - to race under controlled conditions.
Street racing is illegal but drag racing on legal strips is not.
On such strips, vehicles must pass safety checks before races, computers clock speeds and ambulances are on standby.
Driver's licenses aren't required for junior dragsters, who drive small cars with small engines. Those ages 16 and older must be licensed drivers.
Louden's father, Bob, of Colerain Township, says local drag strips began sprouting up across the nation in the 1950s "to get the kids off the street."
The faster drivers go, the more fun they have - and the more safety precautions are required, Bob Louden said.
Drivers in vehicles that can go a quarter-mile in 13.99 seconds must wear a helmet and protective jacket. When vehicles can go that distance in 11.99 seconds, roll bars are required.
Louden said he's troubled by the series of high-speed fatal crashes among Greater Cincinnati teens.
"I think every teenager at one point wants to put that pedal through the floor and see what happens," Louden said. "They have a no-fear thing - and they don't have a respect for what it can do."
The youngest racers at Tri-State - between the ages of 8 and 16 - drive small, low, elongated cars with 5-hp engines. Some kids have sponsors, including the Assemblies of God Cutting Edge Youth Ministries, a church youth group from suburban Dayton.
"It's fun. It's a blast!" said junior drag-racer Brian Cripps, 11, of Miamisburg. "Once you race once, you're hooked."
His dad, Jerry, says the program offers an incentive for kids to attend church. If they don't, they're not allowed to race. "It helps me divert his attention to where it needs to be," Cripps said. "I know this is not something for the streets; this is teaching him that, too."
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