Auburn drag racer takes on Pro Stock field at Northwest Nationals

Auburn’s Aaron Strong has built a National Hot Rod Association drag racing career from the ground up.

It started when he barely had a driver’s license: bracket racing in a 1989 Ford Mustang SSP against his father at Pacific Raceways.

It also meant rebuilding junked vehicles into racing cars, such as a 1963 Chevy Nova he rescued for $300 from an old barn down the road.

But now the Fife High School graduate is in a serious business — joining the Pro Stock ranks for at least a four-race stint.

The 38-year-old dump-truck business owner made a dramatic debut in the professional class last week at the Sonoma Nationals. After his second qualifying pass, the parachutes did not deploy in the shutdown area, and he steered his Chevy Camaro into the sand trap — all after a personal-best run of 6.587 seconds.

But this is a special week, competing as the only in-state Pro Stock racer in the hometown NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent.

“I think 95 percent of the sportsman racers, they look up to Pro Stock. It is the funnest class to watch … and it’s always been a goal of mine (to race in),” Strong said. “But to get to race in Pro Stock isn’t a right. It is a privilege.”

Strong estimated that he will hand out close to 150 tickets to family, friends and business associates for this weekend’s races.

“I didn’t want to debut in Seattle,” said Strong, whose Strong Trucking is one of the track sponsors. “I just didn’t want that distraction. Everyone is excited for us, obviously.”

Strong, a two-time NHRA Division 6 champion in Competition Eliminator, captured his first national-event victory at last year’s season-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California, defeating Clint Neff in the finals.

It was easily Strong’s best season. Out of 14 races, he went to six finals — and won three times. He placed fifth in the Comp Eliminator world points title race.

After the season, Strong said he felt racing in 14 events was too much. One of the options he considered was jumping to the Pro Stock ranks on a part-time basis.

Veteran driver Greg Stanfield, who came into this season looking for sponsorship to fund a Top Fuel team for his son, Aaron, decided to sell his Chevy Camaro. He put it up for sale at the beginning of 2015.

Strong jumped on the chance to purchase it.

And he sure jumped into the fray quickly last week in California.

His car was at a peak speed of nearly 210 mph when the parachutes failed at the end of his run. He kept tapping the brake pedal to get the car to slow down, and guided it into the sand pit designed to stop runaway vehicles.

The car caught fire, and sustained damage to the front end. But the incident did not wreck the motor.

“I had been in another situation like that, where I didn’t have the chutes, going 165 mph in Boise,” Strong said. “I had a little more control of it this time.”

Strong qualified 15th, and lost to reigning Northwest Nationals Pro Stock champion Jason Line in the first round of eliminations.

Strong had his car hauled to the body shop of his brother, Brandon Huhtala, who is an NHRA sportsman racer. It is expected to be fixed before Friday’s qualifying.

“We know,” Strong said, “it’s going to be pretty wild and crazy this weekend.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442