Mike Campbell likes to go fast.
The 1,060-horsepower, 582-cubic-inch engine in his dragster propels him from 0 to 182 mph in 7.4 seconds. By that time the starting line is a quarter mile behind him.
“It pushes you back in the seat a little bit,” he said.
He finds it exhilarating. What’s even more exhilarating is winning the Super Pro series at the Brainerd International Raceway for the third time in six years, as Campbell, a Brooklyn Park resident, recently did.
Campbell bought his first car — a 1970 Chevy Nova — at age 15. That’s when he started racing. His dad was also a racer, and they raced together for several years.
“We were like partners in crime,” he said. “We went everywhere together.”
Now 43, Campbell has two daughters who accompany him to the racetrack. His older daughter, 12-year-old Jordyn, also races a junior dragster. She started at age 8, the earliest allowed.
“She was going 60 mph at 8 years old,” Campbell said.
Jordyn and her sister Katelyn were in the pits at the track when their dad clinched this year’s Super Pro series in Brainerd.
But the win didn’t come quite the way Campbell would have wished.
To be series champ, Campbell had to have the most points based on the best five out of six bracket competitions at the track this summer. At each competition, racers received 100 points for competing and 100 points for each elimination round won. The overall winner of a competition, the runner-up and semifinalists all received bonus points.
Campbell faced stiff competition. According to Geoff Gorvins with the Brainerd International Raceway, the Super Pro class is generally considered the fastest class and attracts the most drivers.
“There are typically more than 60 drivers in that class for each race, so competition is tough,” he said. “Mike is always at the top of the points standings and is one of our better and more consistent bracket racers.”
But Campbell was plagued by car trouble. In the second-to-last bracket competition this year, he had problems during time trials and had to borrow a car for the elimination rounds.
Going into the final bracket competition Sept. 9, Campbell had a slight lead over the runner-up, Rodney Thompson. To overtake Campbell, Thompson only had to win one more race than Campbell in the elimination rounds.
Once again, Campbell had technical difficulties. His dragster blew a head gasket, and he had to borrow a car again. Instead of getting behind the wheel of his dragster, he ended up in an ’81 Camaro.
The difference in speed didn’t matter much, because the style of racing uses handicaps in order to allow different types of cars to compete. But being in an unfamiliar car put Campbell at a disadvantage. He felt discouraged.
“I mean you go the whole year, and I just put (my car) back together a couple weeks ago,” he said. “You don’t expect it to break so soon.”
In the third elimination round, Campbell raced before Thompson — and lost.
At that point the results were beyond Campbell’s control. If Thompson won, he’d have enough points to be series champion. If Thompson lost, Campbell would be champion.
“I was actually standing next to the wall halftrack, watching him,” Campbell said. “It was very, very nerve-racking.”
Thompson lost the race.
In the pits, Campbell’s daughters and girlfriend cheered, and he hurried over to celebrate.
“I was plenty happy,” he said.
Campbell walked away with prize money, a trophy and free entry into the races next year, as well as the satisfaction of being champion.
Campbell said he’s grateful to his dad, his daughters, his girlfriend, his sponsors and the two friends who let him borrow their cars for races this summer.
He plans to try for the title again next year.