FALMOUTH, N.S. — For Vince and Marilyn Hazel, drag racing has been a way of life for about half a century.
Vince launched his formidable drag racing career in 1961. In October of this year, the Falmouth resident was inducted into the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
He credits his wife for getting him involved in the sport.
“My wife inspired me,” said Vince.
“We went up to watch a race in Maitland and she watched them and kind of thought our car would beat their car. The next week, we were there,” he said, grinning as he looked over at Marilyn. “It didn't take much twisting.”
They were still newlyweds, who had married the year before.
Reflecting on what compelled Marilyn to get her husband into drag racing, she said it looked like fun, and she felt they stood a real chance at winning.
“I guess I was always kind of a speed demon on the road,” she said, prompting Vince to chime in, “Believe me, she was.”
While she was also behind the wheel for some races, she was his biggest supporter on the sidelines.
The first car Vince took out onto the track was a 1959 Oldsmobile 88.
Pitted against just one other driver, drag racing is a competition to see which vehicle can cross the finish line first. The quarter-mile race is a test of nerves, skill, and vehicle engineering — and a little bit of luck.
While he likely didn't win that first race, Vince was hooked on the sport.
“It felt good, so I kept at it,” he said.
And as he kept at it, he invested a considerable amount of time, money, and energy into modifying different cars to make them top contenders.
Vince soon became a staple in drag racing circuits, not just in the Maritimes, but across the country and the New England states.
“I wasn't much of a sports person, up until then,” said Vince.
When asked what his fondest memory was, Vince immediately said it was being the “Number one qualifier at three national meets in the same year.”
That milestone came in the mid-1990s, thanks to his 1980 Pontiac Phoenix Coupe with front wheel drive.
“That thing was going over a second under the index. It was good,” said Vince.
The index, determined by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), is the expected performance of a vehicle.
“The idea of qualifying number one is in the first round of eliminations – say there's 16 cars in a class – I'd race the 16th car in the first round so my chances of winning are pretty good,” said Vince.
“In the racing community, everyone tries to be that number one guy.”
And he was that No. 1 guy with his Phoenix – a car he modified to become a serious contender.
“It was a car that I completely did myself. It was a new class. I never really knew much about it but I had to learn in a hurry,” recalled Vince. “I pretty much had to work backwards on that compared to a rear-wheel drive car. Everything was different.”
The last record Vince set was in August 2009.
“The last car I set a national record with was in Epping, New Hampshire and it was an '84 Camaro I geared up with an oddball set up,” said Vince. “It had a V6 engine in it and a standard shift transmission.”
Vince said being a licenced mechanic certainly helped in his drag racing endeavours.
Vince set four NHRA national records and two IHRA national records during his career.
All in the family
Vince's youngest daughter, Michelle, basically lived at the racetrack. She loved watching her father race, and soon, she was in the garage helping out.
“She grew up sitting in the car being towed back. Eventually, she started driving,” said Marilyn.
Michelle, who lives in Scotch Village, nominated her father for the 2016 national award.
“I just think my dad has accomplished a lot over his career in drag racing,” said Michelle. “My father has always had 'different' cars, as people would say, but he's well knowledgeable with race cars and a lot of people actually look up to my dad and respect him for what he's done in drag racing.”
Michelle began racing at 16.
“I grew up at the race track. It's like a family,” said Michelle.
“I took an interest in it. I helped dad in the garage to build engines and all of that stuff. He gave me the opportunity to drive one of the cars and I said 'yes, sure, I would love to’.”
Her fondest memories of her father, she said, involve the quality time spent with him working on the cars.
“I had to learn about the cars before I could drive them. So we spent my winter nights out in the garage tearing motors apart and handing him wrenches,” she said.
Michelle's two children also got involved with drag racing, and competed in the junior dragster class. Although they're not racing anymore, Michelle still is, as is her partner.
Michelle credits her mom for always being supportive of the Hazels' hobby.
“For the love of drag racing, she supported us 100 per cent. She was at every race. Without her, it would have been difficult.”
The Hazels sold their last race car — a rear-engine dragster — near the end of the summer. It went to Rexton, New Brunswick.
Although 'retired' from actively working on race cars, Michelle said she doesn't think Vince is ready to hang up the tool belt just yet.
“He may be 76, but I think you'll very much see him back at the race track,” said Michelle.
“My father always has ideas in his head as to what kind of race car (he wants to create).”
While his wife insists there will be no more cars in the garage to tinker with, the twinkle in Vince's eye says otherwise.
“Oh, it's possible,” he said when asked if he'll continue to build race cars. “It's possible.”
Fast cars galore
Vince Hazel owned and operated several vehicles over his drag racing career, including:
1967 Chevrolet Camaro
1955 Chevy gasser
1972 Toyota Celica modified compact
1972 Plymouth Barracuda 340 J/SA
1972 Plymouth Duster E/SA
1965 Dodge Station Wagon U/SA
1980 Pontiac Phoenix D/FSA
1984 Chevrolet Camaro W/S