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Paul Cursey - Go, Speed Racer, Go!
Mechanical Technician Paul Cursey feels the need for speed. While Cursey was a teenager, his father took him to Dorsey Speedway in Baltimore, Maryland. Says Cursey, “Sitting in the stands, one day I thought maybe I could become a race car driver. And I did.” He began racing at Dorsey Speedway when he was just twenty.

He likens what he does to “short track speed racing without the practice.” He finished eighth in points his first year. He later moved to Potomac Speedway in Budds Creek, Md. Twenty-six years later, he has accumulated 61 feature wins, the final and main event of the night, which makes him the all-time feature winner for that track in his division. He also earned three championships based on the highest total points throughout the entire race season.

Paul Cursey was the Featured Win at the Potomac Speedway in 2008.› Larger image
Paul Cursey was the featured winner at Potomac Speedway in 2008. Credit: P. Cursey
Cursey does short track, dirt, stock car racing, which he describes as “a grassroots branch of NASCAR.” He is in the Limited Late Model Division, which he explains as “a fairly new model car with an all-out racing chassis and an engine constricted by limited specifications meaning that there is a limit to what you can do to the engine.” A new chassis costs about $20,000, the engine is about $10,000, and he builds the body out of aluminum sheet metal. Currently, he is racing a 2004 Rocket chassis, which he describes as “just a cage and a cockpit.” He wears a fire suit, fireproof helmet, and gloves. His number is and always has been 37.

Cursey considers his to be a “tough class.” He says, “Everyone is supposed to be running the same spec engine, so winning depends on being the best driver.” He attributes his successful driving to having fast reflexes, a love for the sport, and giving 110% all the time. “What we say in dirt racing is ‘You just go fast and turn left.’” Indeed, the cars are actually constructed to turn left.

This is an image of Paul's car in a heat race at the Winchester Speedway.› Larger image
Paul Cursey drives in a heat race at Winchester Speedway. Credit: P. Cursey
Dirt cars are driven a little differently from regular cars. “You drive with two feet, one on the gas and the other on the brake,” explains Cursey. “You steer the car with the gas pedal. The steering wheel only points the car. The suspension moves so that the rear of the car steers you through corners.” Cursey further explains, “When you jam on the brakes, you just slide forward. You have no control. If you let off the gas, you also lose all control.”

According to Cursey, dirt track racing is a team sport. He married his high school sweetheart who does all the paperwork. Says Cursey, “Friends say she is the perfect racing wife. She has never missed a race in 26 years.” His pit crew consists of a crew chief and a few others including Bob Arvey from Goddard who helped him for many years. The racing season runs
from March through October. He and the team work on the car three nights a week and then race or watch the races on weekends. All races are held at night to keep the track “tacky and fast.” Over the winter, he and his crew rebuild the car for the next season.

Cursey describes racing as “intense, loud, hot, and a thrill.” He continues, “Racing is so loud you just hear rumbling. You shake so hard you can barely read the gauges.” His car runs on racing fuel alcohol which is less expensive, runs cooler, and creates more horsepower than racing gas. His engine creates 565 horsepower; a typical family car has less than 200 horsepower.

A “heat race” is eight laps. A competitor must qualify in a heat race in order to race in the main event, which is 20 laps. In dirt racing, the track dirt is thrown back into the driver’s face. They wear full shield helmets. Says Cursey, “We put 20 pieces of tear-off plastic on the helmet that I pull off during the race in order to see.” Admits Cursey, “Sometimes you look and feel like you have been beaten up when you get out of the car.” The cars do not have windows, just metal bars to catch large debris. As for any danger, Cursey admits, “I’ve flipped a car, I’ve been sent to the hospital, I’ve hit and been hit by other cars, I’ve hit the walls, and I’ve gotten seat belt burns.” He replaces his helmet every three years. He concludes, “When you have 20 cars going in the same corner at the same time, it just gets a little hairy.”

Next season, Cursey plans to race at Hagerstown, Md., which he considers to be the premier dirt track on the East Coast. Cursey says,” If you can race competitively there, you can race anywhere.”

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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.