For Quentin Chambers, life is a drag (race)

Each green light leads to seven seconds of pure methanol-driven adrenaline rush

Dan Hiestand
    Lots of things can be done in seven seconds.
   Some examples: Roger Ailes, president of FOX News, once said it takes seven seconds to make a good first impression. According to NASA documentation, it takes approximately seven seconds for a space shuttle to hit the 100 mile-per-hour mark after liftoff.
   For Quentin Chambers, seven seconds is also the amount of time it typically takes for him to go from zero to approximately 200 miles per hour in a dragster, pull three-and-a-quarter Gs, switch gears, cover a quarter-mile, win or lose a race, deploy a parachute and pull another negative two Gs — among other things.
   “It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Chambers of drag racing. “When you’re pulling three-and-a-quarter Gs off the line, and the front wheels are off the ground for 80 feet — there’s just no way to explain it unless you actually have done it.”
   Considering his seven-second accomplishments, it’s not hard to see how he has done so much with his powder-coating company in four years.
   Chambers, 34, is the owner of Advanced Powder Coating NW Inc., in Bellingham, a company he started soon after he lost his job at Georgia Pacific West Inc., six years ago, just prior to the official closure of the pulp mill. It’s also a growing company in the midst of moving from a 6,000-square-foot warehouse into a 25,000-square-foot warehouse by next year.
   For Chambers, drag racing and running a company are challenges he welcomes — at full throttle.

From hobby to career
   Chambers developed an interest in powder coating when he first got into drag racing about 15 years ago. At the time, he was modifying his first vehicle — a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle — for use in a race. Modifying meant stripping the car down, and adding such features as racing seats and a roll cage.
   “That’s when I got interested in powder coating,” he said. “Of course, I needed something to finish my car off with — the suspension components and things of that nature.” To finish them off meant powder coating them.
   Powder coating, in Chambers words, is “a powdered form of paint, baked on in an oven.”
   Chambers said the dry, powdered paint his company uses is electrostatically charged and sprayed onto a part. That part is then placed in an oven and the powder particles melt and coalesce to form a continuous film.
   “It’s more durable than liquid paint,” Chambers said. “It’s more scratch resistant and more abrasion resistant.”
   Because it is paint, it can be used just about everywhere, Chambers said. He said his company works on a variety of projects and objects, ranging from railings and balconies to heavy industrial-type machinery.
   “There is just a huge variety. There really isn’t just one marketplace,” Chambers said. “It’s everywhere. If you go to the hardware store and start looking around, everything is powder coated. These chairs we are sitting in are powder coated.”
   Combine the ubiquity of his company’s product with the business growth of the city, and you’ve got a good combination, he said.
   “We’ve probably quadrupled in the last four years as far as the amount of business,” Chambers said. “Last year was our best year by far, and this year — at this point — we’re about 30 percent over where we were last year. I think it has a lot to do with our quality and our turnaround time.”
   Chambers developed the idea for starting a powder-coating company a year before he was laid off by G-P in August 2000, where he worked for 10 years. During that year-long period, he said he researched the powder-coating industry, even traveling around the country to become more educated. By the summer of 2001, he started his company.
   “That first year was rough,” Chambers said. “It was a struggle, wondering if we were going to be able to make it. Having three kids and putting everything on the line to build something like we have is definitely scary. Going from a job like G-P, where you know you are getting so much a month and you’ve got medical (insurance) and you’ve got dental (insurance). You’ve got all you need for a family, and then all of sudden, boom, you don’t have that anymore. Yeah, it was pretty scary. But now, I look back and think, ‘Wow, we’ve done a pretty good job so far.’”
   Bob Yost, vice president at U.S. Bank in Bellingham, worked with Chambers when Chambers started his business. Yost said Chambers’ company has done much better than predicted.
   “He’s done exceedingly well in the business,” Yost said. “He’s an excellent business guy, and very calm in nature.”
   Now, Chambers and his four full-time employees are moving from the Guide Meridian into a bigger facility on Spur Ridge Lane, and he said his services will likely expand — as will his employee count.
   “We’ll definitely offer some other services,” Chambers said. “Probably mid-to-late next year, we’ll probably bring on some other things.” He mentioned welding and fabricating as possibilities.
   “Initially (starting the company) was hard,” said Chambers’ wife, Tracie. “It was a lot of long hours and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But it’s been his baby. It’s shown tremendous success for a startup, probably more than we ever could have hoped for.”

‘My neighbors just love me’
   Aside from his family and his business, Chambers’ other passion sits in his garage.
   The cockpit of Chambers’ 24-foot long, fire-red dragster is more like a plane than a car: a dual-grip steering wheel; an open-air roll cage; a dash that shows fuel pressure, engine revolutions, oil pressure, water temperatures and exhaust gas temperatures; and a “command center” that helps him start the race on time — when tenths of a second can matter.
   When Chambers eases into the cockpit, it’s a snug fit. Today, he’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt. On race day, he’s wearing a thick, fire-retardant suit; helmet; gloves; boots, and a neck restraint that’s strapped from his helmet to his seat belt to help prevent whiplash.
   “It’s a mental struggle being strapped in your car for 15 or 20 minutes being ready to go in 95-degree heat, and the sun beating in on the cockpit,” Chambers said. “You’re just sitting there. You really have to block it out of your mind, otherwise you kind of just go crazy.”
   Some would likely call him and his fellow drag racers crazy for their devotion to the sport, which pits two drivers against each other on a quarter-mile track where a combination of speed, coordination and racing smarts are the pivotal ingredients for success.
   At the start of the race, timing is everything, Chambers said. Getting a jump off the line too early means disqualification, and too late may mean the difference between winning and losing.
   “When you’re in — and I’ll call it ‘The Zone’ — you don’t even see the crowd,” Chambers said. “You don’t know that anything is there except for you and that (green) light.”
   Once the race starts, though, the cockpit is a flurry of activity.
   “As soon as the timer times out, all of a sudden, the car just takes off on its own,” he said.
   For about the first 80 feet, the dart-shaped car — which weighs about 1,900 pounds with Chambers in it — is pointed skyward, balanced on its thick back tires as the dragster pulls three-and-a-quarter Gs. About two seconds into the race, Chambers said he pushes the gear shifter — which is centered between his legs — forward to high gear with his right hand. About four to five seconds later, he reaches across his chest — also with this right hand — to pull the parachute release lever, and then pushes the brake forward to slow the car — pulling a negative two Gs in the process.
   The two extremes of acceleration and deceleration can be jarring on the body, Chambers said. After his first season in a dragster, he started using the neck restraint.
   “At the end of the day, I’d have a massive headache,” he said of racing without the restraint. “You’re getting whiplash. But now my head is tied, and I can’t move.” Despite the obvious risks, Chambers said he has not had a serious accident.
   He doesn’t start the vehicle on this day, but when he does — something that happens fairly often on his pastoral Whatcom County property during the race season, which runs from April to late September — his neighbors 1.5 miles away can hear it.
   “It’s loud,” said Chambers of the dragster, which runs on methanol. “My neighbors just love me.”
   Chambers’ dedication to the sport shows in the money he spends, the time he invests and the results he achieves. Racing mentor, accomplished drag racer and friend Brian Barling has known Chambers for more than 10 years.
   “We always pit together,” said Barling. “He’s a fierce competitor. Before I actually teamed with him in this category, he won a track championship. He brings all the competitive spirit and all the tenacity necessary to win at this level.”
   Chambers estimates he has won about a dozen races over the years, and has competed in “well over” 1,000 passes, or quarter-mile drag events. He explained that six passes is roughly equal to one race, and he said his best time was a “6-75, 202,” or a 6.75-second pass topping out at 202 miles per hour.
   Last month, he won the Eagle Motorplex National Open (a national event in Canada) for his division — called “Top Comp” — at Mission Raceway Park in Mission, B.C. Top Comp racers compete in the “sportsman” class — or the amateur bracket — and are just a class below being professional level, he explained.
   “This is pretty much as far as a person could go before turning professional, or getting to the point where you have to have massive funding and a large team to do it,” Chambers said.
   Chambers’ pit team primarily consists of his two brothers, Kevin and Trevis, and his cousin Archie Parker. That crew helps Chambers keep his dragster in top shape — something that’s essential for his sport.
   “The caliber of racers just seems to get better year after year. You have to have a car that can repeat,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to run basically the same number, time after time, whether it’s 40 degrees or 90 degrees.”
   He said he started racing when he was 23 at Mission Raceway Park —which also happens to be the closest drag-racing venue in the area. Until three race seasons ago, he drove the 1972 Chevelle, which typically topped out around 10-135 — a much more easy-going pace than his current dragster.
   “I could eat a burger (in that amount of time) now,” he said. The switch to the dragster was tough, but he got used to it quickly, he said.
   While Chambers is considered an amateur, the cost to compete can still be steep, he said.
   The huge, 33-inch-diameter, 17-inch wide tires that anchor the back of the car must be replaced after 50 to 60 passes, Chambers said — at a rate of $800 per pair. The smallish, 22-inch diameter, two-inch wide front tires run $340 per pair. For both tire and engine repairs, costs can balloon to the $15,ooo to $20,000 level during a single season, he said.
   With two races per month during the season, travel to races around the region — including Montana, Oregon and British Columbia — takes up a lot of time, he said.
   “For me as a business owner, it’s a struggle,” Chambers said. “I’ve got to have the people in place to be able to take care of the business while I’m gone.”
   His wife and his three daughters are supportive of his hobby, despite the higher-than-normal risks associated with the sport, Chambers said.
   “When you’re at the track and you see someone else crash, you worry a little bit,” said Tracie Chambers. “But it’s what he loves. So, supporting him in it, there is no question about that.”

So you wanna race?
   Becoming a fast-track drag racer is less complicated than you might think — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
   “If you (race a quarter-mile pass) under 10 seconds, you have to go through a licensing (procedure),” said Chambers. This means going to the doctor, getting a physical, and then filling out National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) licensing paperwork.
   From there, interested racers would have to have two other people who hold licenses watch the whole process to check safety and competence standards, Chambers said.
   “They’ll do a blindfold test,” he said. “They’ll blindfold you, put you in your car and they’ll ask you where (the instruments are).”
   After passing these markers, drivers would get behind the wheel for a driving test on the track, usually starting at short distances (such as 60 feet) and moving up gradually until reaching the quarter-mile level, Chambers said.
   To finish the licensure process, drivers are required to complete two full passes and have a track manager and two licensed-drivers sign you off.
   “Then boom, you’re done,” Chambers said. And if you are in it for the money, think again: a typical win will yield about $800 and a trophy, he said. For more information on drag racing, go to the NHRA Web site at



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