It’s a Saturday afternoon in the middle of August. It’s race day at the Clarenville Speedway and the young woman is looking sheepish as her Dad kneels down and inspects the engine of his car. He frowns at the puddle of oil collecting underneath.

She knows that she’s just caused him one big headache.

"I just drove it the way I always drive it," she says.

Meaning, she was about two seconds into an eight second run in her father’s precious dragster — six seconds away from a top speed approaching  270 km/hr when the engine blew, the rear wheels locked up and her plans for the afternoon came to a screeching halt.

A crowd gathers. Dad figures a connecting rod failed. He passes his daughter a little piece of twisted metal, the fragment that punched a hole through the bottom of the engine. 

"Congratulations," says a fellow racer, "There’s a first time for everything."

And this — her first full summer of racing —has been a season of firsts. A few weeks back, she showed she can compete with the big boys by racing the quarter mile in 8.16 seconds. And today the 18-year-old just broke her first motor.

Willie Brewer must have known this day was coming when, the day he became a father, he passed over names like Ashley and Brittany (both top picks in 1995) and — being a Ford man — christened his daughter Shelby. As in Shelby Cobra. The car.

Ever since then, their summers have been focused on one dragster or another. Wrenching and racing through the day;  relaxing trackside at night.

Both the car and their aging motorhome are stored near the airstrip in Clarenville. On race weekends, Willie and Shelby drive out from Conception Bay. The addictive thrill of that eight-second blast down the track, the deafening roar of an 850 horsepower engine, the friendship, even the sickly-sweet smell of race fuel — they’re all  too much to resist.

So it’s only natural that today Shelby Brewer is the youngest — and only — female drag racer in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Blowing up an engine just comes with the territory. Willie figures he can get two seasons out of one of these big-block Fords.

Back in the pit it’s like a light-hearted wake for the engine. Fellow drag racers file by to pay their respects.  They nod their heads, take a guess at what went wrong, wish Willie good luck with the rebuild.

Con Dunphy is a veteran racer and one of the track organizers. He knows young people like Shelby are the future of the sport. He assures her she didn’t do anything wrong. Then the ultimate act of trust: he offers to let her finish the day in his machine.

"We’re like family," says the wife of another racer. "We watched Shelby grow up. I remember when she was a little girl, learning how to ride her bicycle over in the parking lot."

With a little luck, Shelby and Willie will be back racing their own car in Clarenville later in the month. There’s another Ford engine at home and that means Willie has two weeks to do the swap. It’s not quite as big and powerful as the first engine. But at least it doesn’t have a gaping hole in the bottom and can still race the quarter mile in about the same time than it takes to read this sentence.

You can hit the track yourself if you’ve got a knack for rebuilding engines and $25,000 to buy a rail car like Shelby’s. They’re racing at Clarenville Dragway every second weekend up until early October. In the meantime, have a look at the video posted above.

Remaining race days at Clarenville Dragway:

  • Aug 24/25
  •  Sept 7/8
  • Sept 21/22
  • Oct 5/6

Clarenville Dragway Burnouts

Burnouts are an essential part of drag racing. The stated purpose is to warm up tires before the actual race so they grip the asphalt better. But in reality, they're just plain fun and almost as exciting as the race itself. Have a look at some of the action from Clarenville Dragway in the second video above.