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Life in the fast lane: St. Paul Park's Delmonico eyes repeat drag-racing championship

Jake Delmonico, pictured with his wife, Loni, is gunning for a second consecutive drag racing series championship at Brainerd International Raceway. Delmonico, of St. Paul Park, will compete in the last race of the Muscle Car Series on Labor Day Weekend. On the hood of his 1968 Camaro is his fireproof suit, which drivers are required to wear. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)1 / 3
Jake Delmonico drag races with his 1968 Camaro, which is equipped with a roll cage, parachute and nitrous oxide tanks. He has reached speeds of over 180 miles per hour during races. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)2 / 3
Drag racer Jake Delmonico of St. Paul Park shows off the horses under the hood of his specially modified 1968 Camaro. He’s gunning for a second consecutive drag racing championship in the Muscle Car Series at Brainerd International Raceway on Labor Day weekend. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)3 / 3

When Jake Delmonico says he’s addicted to speed, he’s not being cocky, merely factual.

At 17, he began drag racing in Newport and on Highway 52 in St. Paul — wherever there was enough wide open straight road — and presumably, where the cops weren’t lurking.

Back then, he drove a white 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

“I actually started street racing back in the day,” said Delmonico, who lives in St. Paul Park. “Everybody hung out on Red Rock Road or near the Lafayette Bridge. You’d just fire ‘em up and go.”

He can’t recall the maximum speed he reached in those days. But he knew he was hooked on horsepower.

“Oh man. I couldn’t even tell you,” he said. “The speedometer didn’t go that high.”

At 40, Delmonico still seeks out fast company. At least once a month, he races his specially modified 1968 Camaro at professional drag strips around the state. He competes in a competitive car category known as the Outlaw Class. Typically, two cars blast off side by side down a quarter mile straight course.

It may seem like lunacy to spend thousands of dollars and drive over three hours to Brainerd — all for a race that’s over in under eight seconds. Delmonico said his expenses include a $2,000 fireproof suit, which is hot and heavy. And if you think you’re paying high gas prices, consider that a 55-gallon drum of high-octane racing fuel costs him $960.

“It’s a very expensive sport,” Delmonico said.

He and his wife, Loni, are trying to sign up sponsors to defray some of the costs.

Even with the expenses, he’s dedicated.

“It’s the speed, but it’s also the rush of it,” Delmonico said. “It’s kind of like taking off in an airplane because of the G-force that you feel.”

It takes nerve, skill and hair-trigger reflexes to pilot a car that’s screaming down the straightaway at 184 mph — which happens to be Delmonico’s record speed to date. It also requires a special driver’s license.

“It’s a lot of focus,” he said. “It’s a lot of practice up and down that drag strip.”

It’s paying off. On July 4, Delmonico won the second leg of the Muscle Car Series at Brainerd International Raceway. The victory extended his winning streak to five races, which includes the three races he won last year in the series. If he prevails at the Muscle Car Shootout on Labor Day weekend, he’ll notch a second consecutive championship in the Outlaw Class.

The Outlaw and Pro Outlaw classes are the two fastest race classes at Brainerd International Raceway, according to marketing director Geoff Gorvin.

“You couldn’t drive these cars to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk because they’re not street legal,” Gorvin said in an email. “They’re built for one thing and one thing only: drag racing. Most of the drivers who race in the Muscle Car Series race at drag strips across the Midwest all summer. They’re sophisticated cars piloted by skilled drivers who are able to adjust to the weather and track conditions  to maximize the car’s power. And Jake has proven to be a really tough driver to beat.”

Prior to the start of a race, Delmonico spins his tires in a “burn out” to warm them up. His Camaro is equipped with a roll cage and he must wear a neck restraint. He drives with tanks of nitrous oxide, which is injected into the Camaro’s air intake to boost acceleration. There’s a parachute in the back to slow him down after he crosses the finish line.

“I get the job of packing the dang thing,” Loni Delmonico said.

For the couple’s six kids, there couldn’t be a cooler sport.

“Our vacation consists of going to the track,” she said. “It’s our whole family’s hobby. The kids enjoy watching the race and watching dad win.”