We hope you're all enjoying our monthly feature which turns the spotlight on community members who have unique and interesting stories. So far you've met Darin Weidner, volunteer firefighter, and Anthony George, Australian Outback explorer. For December, we introduce you to a high school student with a championship title in drag racing. Meet Jake Marunich.
Pictured from left to right: Denny Marunich, Roxy Marunich, Grace Knappenberger, Jesse Miller, Payton Marunich, Darren Egick, Darlene Egick, Kyle Biegley, Dan Marinelli, Nick Marinelli, and Jake Marunich. Photos provided by Jake Marunich.
By Danielle Tepper
“We grew up with it,” said Jake of himself and his older sister, Payton. “When we were little, we used to race snowmobiles. We’ve just always been at the racetrack.”
Their father, Denny Marunich, raced on and off since his teens/early 20s; he made his own car at 16. Simply by being around it, his kids became interested in the thrill of it all. They received their own car, which they shared, as a surprise Christmas gift from their parents and grandparents. Now they each have their own and racing has become a family event.
The Marunich kids both joined the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), where you’re eligible for Junior Dragster from ages eight to 18. Founded in 1951, the NHRA is “second to only NASCAR, in terms of attendance, fan appeal, and sponsorship commitment.” (NHRA.com.)
Drag racing isn’t just about who finishes first, however; it’s actually quite technical.
“What we do is bracket racing,” explained Jake. Each bracket usually consists of 25-30 racers in that age range. “You dial in a number and you can’t beat your own time. There are 10 seconds in a quarter mile. The first one across the line without going over their time wins.”
“It’s a lot of learning,” said Payton. “People assume it’s a standard race, but it’s not. You can lose by 1/1000th of a second.”
Speed isn’t the only factor needed to win; in fact, sometimes racers are required to ease up on the gas from time to time. There’s quite a bit of skill involved, as bracket racing is based on precision.
“A better reaction time equals a better jump than the other guy,” explained Jake. “You have to be good at launching, which puts you further down the track even if you leave at the same time. That’s the point of dialing in; you want to beat him by the smallest amount of time without going under yours.”
“You bump in in stages,” added Payton. “You leave when the third light comes down. A perfect light is .000. You can’t leave too early or you lose. It’s confusing, but once you know it, you’re good.”
Even if speed isn’t the most important factor, it certainly counts. Their half-scale cars are one cylinder and can do half a track in seven seconds.
“It’s seriously a souped-up lawn mower engine,” laughed Jake. He’s currently working on building a full-scale one, the engines for which have about 8,000-10,000 horsepower. (An average car might have 150.) A full dragster can do one lap around the track in four seconds.
Wins are based on a point system. Points are gained for every race attended, as well as rounds won. Payton became a champ in 2008, Jake in 2011. With enough points, racers qualify for Divisionals, then Nationals, where “half the country shows up” to watch, according to Jake.
The Marunichs race at Numidia Dragway, which is around the Bloomsburg area. What started out as a small track is now the host for the bracket finals. The Marunichs spent practically every weekend there from 2005 on, making it easy to create friendships with fellow racers.
“You meet so many people from all around the country at each race,” said Jake. “People will travel the whole weekend just to come to this track, because it’s the nicest location in the area.”
Payton added, “A lot of people come for the payout. It’s the home of the guaranteed payout.”
“As a Junior Dragster, you’re not really in it for the money, you’re in it for the experience,” said Jake.
Jake is a senior this year at Northern Lehigh High School where he plays football, DJs on the side, and dabbles a bit in website design. He’s considering going to college for mechanical engineering, naturally, with a focus on cars. Payton is in her second year of studying Occupational Therapy at Elizabethtown.
For more on the NHRA, visit www.nhra.com.
If you know someone who deserves to be recognized by the Gazette, tell us about them! Email Danielle at firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject line “TCG NOMINATION.” We need submissions for 2014! NEXT MONTH: Read about Nick Pope, a kind soul from Pen Argyl, who runs to raise funds for children with brain injuries.