Drag racing and Bill Naves have been companions for most of the Salisbury resident’s adult life, and it’s a relationship that Naves can’t see himself without.
“I don’t know what else to do,” said Naves, who has been racing a Top Alcohol Funny Car for more than 25 years. “Every year I tell myself … I’m getting old; it’s getting hard. I just can’t stop. I guess it defines who I am.”
The 59-year-old Naves began drag racing in a street-driven, Corvette-type bracket car while living in his hometown of Gloucester, Mass. He soon moved to a 1948 Anglia equipped with a small block Chevy engine. Next came a front-engine dragster, but he didn’t like that car. So he then purchased a rear-engine dragster owned by Don Garlits.
“The scene up north for (Alcohol) Funny Cars at the time, there were a lot of paid match races where you could support your habit,” Naves said. “That tempted me to go that way. My wife has been doing this with me since the ’80s, so we sat down and decided that was the route we had to go if we wanted to continue.”
Eventually, Naves’ Alcohol Funny Car lured him to North Carolina. He had friends in the Salisbury area, and they had encouraged him to move to the Tar Heel state. After visiting them for a week in 1996, the Naves family relocated to Salisbury about a month later.
Alcohol Funny Car was at the time an International Hot Rod Association class, and North Carolina was a better location for him. Naves competed in 12 IHRA and five NHRA events annually, in addition to numerous match races. Since then, the IHRA dropped the Alcohol Funny Car class. Naves now limits his competition to a few NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events – including the two at zMax Dragway – and match races arranged by his son’s company, Earth Shaking Entertainment.
“My son will put together a show of four or six cars; we’ll go into a small track for a set fee and put on a small race,” said Naves, who has traveled to nearly 80 tracks from Canada to Florida to the Midwest during his career. “The fun part of racing is when we go to a match race. It’s an atmosphere of a cookout with a baseball game going on. It’s like a family reunion every time we pull in.”
A full-time auto mechanic in the Ben Mynatt Nissan service department in Salisbury, Naves, his wife Kimberley, and the couple’s four children always spent their weekends at the drag races.
“My kids grew up on the road,” said Naves, who will be inducted into the East Coast Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Vance County (N.C.) in October. “We’d leave Fridays, be gone all weekend (and) get home Monday morning. They’d go to school, I’d go to work and my wife would go in the garage and get the car ready for the next week. That was when we first started, and the kids were real small.
“We would get home sometimes 3, 4 o’clock in the morning. We’d unload the car out of the trailer, put it in the shop, get the body off. The crew and everybody would go home, she would go in and get some sleep, and I would take a nap and go to work. While I was gone, she would get the top of the motor loosened. If I had taken the super charger off, she would get the heads broken down, ready for me to look at – anything to save time.”
It’s a different environment now, however, as the sport has become more expensive, and Kimberley Naves works full-time for Easter Seals. Bill Naves says that in the last 15 years, Top Alcohol Funny Cars have become the “rich kid’s sport.” He noted his first-round opponent in an event earlier this month at zMax Dragway was from Sweden. The opponent drove into the dragway in a nice motor coach he had for his personal use, his equipment arrived in an 18-wheeler, and he had a full crew to work on the car and a chef to cater meals for the weekend.
“Then I come in with my stuff that’s a lot of hand-me-downs,” Naves said. “I have a lot of friends in the sport that when they cycle parts out, I get first dibs on them. I squeeze whatever life I can out of them to keep going. If I wasn’t a mechanic, there would be no way I could perform this. I have to be able to diagnose an issue the cheapest way out and the quickest way possible at all times.”
Naves noted his biggest expense in the last five years has been travel costs.
“I’ve gone weekends where I spent a $1,000 at the fuel tank,” he said. “That’s hard to recoup. When you get home and you do the books for that date, you have to wonder why you’re doing it. So I find myself picking and choosing where I need to be based on the profitability of it so I can afford to go to another one.”
Naves now competes in 12 to 14 races annually with crew assistance from Jason and Clay Higgins of Salisbury, Alan Heglar, Cory Teaster and his son-in-law, Eric Barber.
Millbridge Speedway schedules Outlaw Kart race
The inaugural SPEED SPORT Challenge, which will be the first televised Outlaw Kart race, has been scheduled for May 21 at Millbridge Speedway.
A 30-lap event at the sixth-mile dirt track in Salisbury, the race will feature drivers from across the nation competing in 500cc winged outlaw karts. The race will be produced by SPEED SPORT Productions and televised on MAVTV on June 12.