October 7, 2016

Jeremy Demers was 6 when he first watched his dad barrel down a race track, going from 0 to nearly 200 mph in a matter of seconds.

By age 9, Jeremy was racing, too.

It was the thrill of acceleration, the skill of timing the start just right and the satisfaction of all the work that led up to that moment that kept him coming back.

And it was his dad.

Larry.

“When I was growing up, I did all the sports stuff through school,” said Jeremy, a Carroll High grad who is now 27. “But my dad never got the opportunity to come watch that stuff because he was working or racing.

“I wanted to spend more time with my dad.”

Larry Demers co-owns the NAPA Auto Parts store in Carroll and owns Demers Performance & Machine, which builds tricked-out hobby and race motors for people across the country. He has raced on and off for most of his life.

“He had interest in it real early on,” Larry said of Jeremy. “He and my other son, Jason, both raced junior dragsters.”

And the boys found that their family expanded when they started racing, especially with the grueling race schedule they keep.

Some of Jeremy’s best friends are guys he’s known for more than 10 years but sees only for a few days here and there as they crisscross the country during race season.

They go to Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, California. This weekend they’re racing in Oklahoma.

Next weekend it’s Texas.

Then Las Vegas.

The Demers’ race season starts in their shop in Carroll, where they build the massive motors that will propel them down the 1/4-mile tracks.

Larry cuts and hones the bottom end of the motor, where eight pistons pump up and down to turn a crankshaft at about 8,000 rpm.

Jeremy grinds the top side of the engine, where air and fuel swirl through ports and valves into the cylinders to explode.

Twin brothers Troy and Trevor Kline, of Schleswig, assemble the engines.

Jeremy’s engine is a 632-cubic-inch Chevrolet that makes 1,175 horsepower — the shop has a dynamometer that measures the motors’ muscle.

Some context: A typical new Corvette has less than half that power.

Jeremy’s brother Jason doesn’t race anymore, but he designs the graphics that adorn the drag cars as they fly down the lanes.

And boy do the Demers guys fly.

Larry is ranked 8th in the nation in his Top Sportsman class, which has drag cars that somewhat resemble street cars.

Jeremy, who races the long, skinny dragsters with tiny wheels up front and huge slicks in the back, is 25th in the Super Comp class. He hopes to crack the top 10 this year as he did two years ago.

They race one other car at a time, until the field of racers is winnowed down to the last man (or woman) standing.

“It’s such a competitive sport,” Jeremy said. “The feeling of when your win light comes on, you feel like you accomplished such a huge goal. You beat one competitor, but you’re better than 75 because you’re moving onto the next round.”

This weekend, Jeremy will steer his dragster to the starting lines and stop as one, then two amber lights glow on a stand between the lanes.

He’ll rev his engine.

Three more amber lights will glow, then one green, and Jeremy will push a button to engage his transmission and down the lane he’ll go.

The electronics in his car will compensate for air and track temperature, wind speed, humidity and others to propel him to the finish line as close to 8.9 seconds as he can get without arriving too early — that’s the goal for his class of racing.

He’ll accelerate to more than 180 mph in that time.

Moments after the finish Jeremy will look to another set of lights down the track.

The win lights.

He’ll look for the amber one to be shining in his lane.