The Bladen family of Gambrills isn’t trying to get rich or make it big as drag racers, they’re just trying to have a good time and stay out of trouble.
That’s why Bobby Bladen Jr. spends thousands of dollars on a 1970 Chevy Nova — painted bright silver and packing a 434-cubic-inch engine.
The family come every Saturday through the fall to the Capitol Raceway in Crofton, where Bobby III races while his father keeps the engine in prime condition and modifies the car in pursuit of faster times on the quarter-mile track.
The youngest Bladen, Joey, 14, fills the fuel tank with 116-octane racing gas that runs $14 a gallon and paints the wheelie-bar wheels neon yellow.
Even Bobby Jr.’s girlfriend, Missy McDonough, helps. She keeps the car’s statistics and pays attention to the weather, which can make a big difference in a car’s time and how well it runs. When she puts all the data into a computer, it predicts how fast the car will race that day under those conditions.
That helps the Bladens make changes to the car, capable of going 154 mph in less than nine seconds.
Bobby III raced for the first time at 16, but he’s been going to the track since he couldn’t reach the door handle of the Nova built by his father and grandfather, the late Bobby “Babe” Bladen Sr.
Bobby III and his family arrive about noon every Saturday, using a large recreational vehicle to pull a white trailer with the Nova inside. They’ve neatly organized all the tools and spare parts they might need — complete with labels for every place and everything.
“The best thing you can do is forget about counting your money,” Bobby Jr. said, considering the amount spent on racing and trying to win. “You’ll get sick.”
Dressed in a three-layer fireproof suit, it’s Bobby III on the inside and Bobby Jr. on the outside, the announcer says, as other race cars rev their engines, only seconds before the light changes, gears shift and tires smoke.
In less than nine seconds — 8.779 exactly — Bobby III, 21, is at the other end of the track with the smell of burnt rubber and fuel fresh in the air.
Now it’s back to resting with his family at the RV, making changes to the car’s engine or suspension and getting something to eat.
“You kind of hang out, chill out until you go out,” Bobby III said.
Because it’s bracket racing, the Bladen family estimates how fast the car can complete a quarter-mile. The goal isn’t to beat the car next to them but to get as close as possible to the estimated time without going faster.
If everything goes right, Bobby III won’t have to worry about deploying parachutes, straightening the car to keep it from hitting the wall or getting the front tires back onto the pavement.
Off the track, the father and son get along well, even working together at the family paving business.
“He’s my best friend,” Bobby III said.
Both agree the relationship has its struggles and disagreements, but neither would change a thing.
“We argue sometimes, we butt heads,” Bobby III said. “I have my ideas; he has his. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes he is. But it’s harder for me to swallow my pride. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”