8 How long have you been doing this? A: I’ve been working for IHRA for more than 40 years. I had friends and relatives that raced at the time and friends that worked for IHRA; we were at Rockingham, N.C. Mickey Lawson might have been the very first starter for IHRA; I’m not positive about that, but he was the race director that weekend. Another friend of mine, Donny Elgin was working as the IHRA head of staging. One Friday, Mickey Lawson asked if I wanted to go to work on the starting line. I said, ‘I don’t know; I’m down here helping my cousin and friend with race cars. If you don’t find anybody, let me know.’ He left, and I got to thinking about it. I’d been going to races a long time; it was time for me to start making money at the races instead of spending money so I went to work that day working in the bleach box, and I’ve been there ever since. Did you ever race? A: “Not with IHRA; I raced little local tracks. I wasn’t any good so I got out. I like to hunt, and I like to fish. I like the lake and going water skiing – stuff like that. You’re talking about somebody that was a teenager or maybe early 20s at the time, I don’t know. If I wasn’t going to put 100 percent into racing, I needed to start looking at other areas. I wasn’t married; I liked girls, fishing and CHIEF STARTER FEATURE Clyde Peake, born and raised in Columbia, S.C., is the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) chief starter. He works primarily in IHRA Division 9-2 where his son, Josh, 37, is the Division director. Clyde Peake, 66, also owns and operates his family business, Peake’s Auto and Tire in Columbia where he works about four and a half hunting, but race cars weren’t for me at that time.” What was it like working for IHRA in the 1980s? A: “Oh, it was a blast. Being around drag racing all my life, and then to go to work with IHRA when I had friends working for IHRA and friends that went to the races every week, it was the best of both worlds. Wherever IHRA went, whether it was Rockingham or Bristol, my friends would show up at these race tracks so I would see them there.” What came after the bleach box? A: I only worked the bleach box the very first race at Rockingham. I think it was two or three weeks later, and I worked handing out ET (elapsed time) slips at Bristol (Tennessee). I really liked that because it was fun; you got to see the racers and talk to the racers. Working on the starting line in the bleach box was hard work, and you didn’t have time to do anything but work. A month or so after that, we went to Michigan, and I was the head of staging for like two weekends. It was shortly after that I went back to the starting line as the assistant starter, and I did that for a few years. A few years after that, they weren’t really happy with the starter, he was a friend of mine, and some of my friends that worked for IHRA said they wanted me to take that job as the national event starter, but he was a friend of mine so that was tough. The next year, they came to me and told me the job was mine and that they wanted me to have it, and they said, ‘if you don’t want it, we’re gonna give it to somebody else.’ I thought about it for 18 days. I didn’t want to take the job initially because I knew when I left from there, some racers would get mad at the starter. I didn’t want to have racers mad at me; I took the national event job, and I still make some people mad!” What’s the hardest part of being a starter? A: “I don’t consider being the starter hard. It’s a real big responsibility to make sure the racers have all their safety stuff on, make sure they stage correctly and that they have a good, clean racing surface and that they get off the track safely before we send the next pair. It’s not really hard. Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard in the sense that it’s long hours and you stand on your feet all day, but actually being the starter isn’t really hard. You have to stay focused more so than any other job there because there could be parts coming off a car. Did the car put down any fluid or cross the center line? You just have to stay in touch with the races going on all day. You can’t relax. You gotta keep up with the crew members when days a week. The elder Peake has been an IHRA Race Official for more than 40 years, and while he is clearly the longest-tenured IHRA Official, he thinks of himself as just one of the guys. Below is a conversation with IHRA Chief Starter, Clyde Peake. MEET IHRA CHIEF STARTER CLYDE PEAKE BY ROB GOODMAN