As Marty Blair approached age 50, he wondered if the sport of drag racing was passing him by. Now 66, he’s leaving everyone else in the dust.
Blair, who currently calls Spicewood, Texas home, is the Top Sportsman points leader in the International Hot Rod Association Summit Sportsman National Championship. He’s glad to be back behind the wheel of a racecar after taking a 16-year hiatus when he sold all his equipment.
“I didn’t race again until about three years ago when I found this Top Sportsman car,” Blair said. “I got back in the car and my reaction times were good and saw everything was still working.”
Blair found a good fit with the racecar, a 1996 VR1 Corvette with a Wally Stroupe chassis. It was built for Pro Mod competition before the conversion to a Top Sportsman car. The engine isn’t large by Top Sportsman standards – a 582 cubic-inch, 18-degree motor with a single four-barrel carburetor – but it runs strong enough and consistent enough to win bracket races.
Blair, who has been a car enthusiast for as long as he can remember, certainly has an appreciation of the Corvette.
“I was raised in Orange County, California, and that was the hot rod capital of the world in the late 50s,” he said. “Harvard Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, people would drive their hot rods with the end-cap headers. Those were the cleanest and nicest street rods and racecars, and that became my interest. At 16 years old, I was going down the racetrack in a ’55 Chevy with a column shifter and a 265 (cubic-inch motor) with a two-barrel [carburetor] on date night.”
But, the love of drag racing soon took a backseat to the responsibilities of everyday life.
A Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, Blair worked for Proctor & Gamble once his military obligation ended. It wasn’t until he was 40 years old that he started going down the track again.
The sport was his passion for the next decade until the decision to get out of the car again. Back behind the wheel, he found drag racing wasn’t quite like riding a bike where everything came easily. To Blair, getting the racecar working right was more like training a horse.
“Once you get a handle on the pony under you, you get the horse to repeat for you,” he said. “You keep your data, see what starts to work and if the weather changes, the car changes like it’s supposed to. It’s those gremlins with nitrous and things like that which frustrates you. The first two years back, I had inconsistency issues before I got it straightened out this year. But, it’s satisfying when you feel you hit the tree that you’re going to be within a hundredth or two of your dial.”
However, even being within a hundredth or two of the dial-in sometimes isn’t enough to win rounds nowadays. Many races are now decided by mere thousandths of a second.
“It’s unbelievable how far the sport has come,” Blair said. “The reaction time and the ability of these guys to run so close to their numbers at 200mph is incredible.”
What makes Blair’s strong start so impressive is he’s a self-described, old-school guy who uses minimal equipment. He takes pride that he doesn’t rely on all the weather stations, race packs and date recorders, but instead goes about his business with travel companion and acting crew chief Audrey Stipe in a workmanlike manner.
“When you start to win a little bit and it pays off, it’s very satisfying,” he said. “But to do what we’re doing with the minimal equipment, I’m very happy right now.”
For more on the IHRA, visit IHRA.com.