Regrettably, the “hits just kept on coming” during last weekend’s Victoria Day Weekend event at Cayuga Dragway….

The highly anticipated first feature race of the season for Eastern Canadian drag racing included more then it’s fair share of bad luck. While the cold windy and rainy weather was one story — the frequency of major on-track incidents during the event is causing the biggest buzz.

By our count a total of six race cars were lost from the Napa Ultimate Showdowns drag racing circuit.  Damage was expensive throughout and it ranged from repairable to total destruction. The only positive we can say is that each and every driver involved suffered no major injuries.  That in retrospect is a true testament to the safety and the rules surrounding these race cars and that is very noteworthy given some of the severity involved.

Sadly it was “Carnage at Cayuga” last weekend…

The two most serious incidents occurred during Saturday’s qualifying sessions — first involving promising up-and-coming Top Dragster racer (17-year old) Cristina Johnston (from Burford) followed later by a mid track collision involving Top Sportsman class drivers Steve Corriveau (Fonthill) and Dave Burchell (Guelph).

Cristina’s incident came driving her dragster which had been refitted with a much more powerful engine program for this season. Shortly after leaving the starting line control of the car was lost and the car then flipped over and made a major impact with the opposite guard wall at about half track.  It then flipped over the containment and broke apart. Incredibly and thankfully – Cristina suffered only slightly singed eyebrows and jumped out of the wreckage herself.

Cristina’s parents – Kyle and Jennie Harris — were gracious enough to offer up their thoughts about the incident.

“Jennie and I have always supported our son and daughter in their aspirations to succeed with everything they try to accomplish,” Kyle Harris confided.  “When their aspirations turned to the sport of Drag Racing we took a position of safety first. Our cars are built and equipped with the most up to date safety equipment and safety components. Anything less would not be considered. We have tediously gone over and above the current class regulations for safety equipment in all of our cars as a precaution in case of the worst and most unimaginable circumstance.”

“This weekend at the opening weekend for the Ultimate Showdowns Drag Racing Series, the worst case happened with Cristina’s dragster. We think the loss of traction and violent move was likely due to fuel leaking from the fuel tank vent under heavy acceleration. We switched into a much bigger and more powerful engine over the offseason and that additional power created more acceleration forces off the starting line than previous runs — causing the fuel to run up the tank spout and out the tank vent directly in the path of the left rear tire.”

“Detailed analysis of the data recorded from the run showed that the car had lost traction creating excessive wheel speed before shifting,” Kyle continued. “Once the car shifted into second gear — it regained traction but only briefly before spinning the tires again. Cristina aborted the run but the abrupt loss of power stopped the wheels from excessively spinning causing the car to regain traction and sending her off into and over the right lane retaining wall.”

“The impact was severe with the engine and rear end separating from the chassis and coming to a rest beside the drivers cockpit over the retaining wall in the grass. Once the vehicle came to rest, Cristina exited the vehicle under her own power and let everyone know that she was ok before moving 25 feet away from the vehicle and laying down on the grass to wait for the track emergency and safety personnel to arrive at the scene. She was transferred from the track to emergency care at the Hagersville Hospital as a precaution before being released to rest at home.”

“All that safety gear did its job well and we are all very, very thankful for that. We would like to thank the Track Safety at Toronto Motorsports park — Richard, Robert and Rayden, complimented by the NAPA Ultimate Showdown crew for their response to the incident.  Also the EMS responders who arrived at the scene. We are grateful for all the manufactures of the safety gear and equipment. Everything from Simpson, Ramjet and ISP to the Chassis from Horton Race Cars that did exactly what it was supposed to do.”

“We would like to thank everyone for the thoughts and prayers for Cristina’s safety during this time,” Kyle added. “Her body is still a little sore from the impact but otherwise she is in good health and spirits and she wants everyone to know that she is OK and doing fine.”

Cristina Johnston

“We have suffered a huge loss as far as the equipment goes. The dragster itself is a total loss and time is needed to sift through the wreckage to see what is left before determining how to move forward with our racing program.”

The second major frightening incident came later Saturday evening during the Top Sportsman’s classes 3rd scheduled qualifier. Racing then within a 1/8th mile format – Steve Corriveau’s great looking 1968 Firebird had an apparent real wheel mechanical failure.  That instantly sent him careening into the opposite lane while racing along side Dave Burchell’s ’67 Nova — where they made contact at very high speed. Both drivers went for wild rides and Corriveau’s car burst into flames. But again mandatory race car safety aspects became very apparent as neither Corriveau or Burchell suffered any major injuries.

Steve Corriveau’s great looking TS Firebird suffered an apparent fluke mechanical malfunction.

“The wheel broke and it turned me into Dave,” Corriveau confirmed. “But the safety equipment did it’s job and I was able to climb out of the car as soon as it stopped. Then one of Dave’s guys met me at the wall and helped me over it and sat me down until the medical staff got there to check me out. But once I knew that Dave was OK too – nothing else mattered because race cars can be fixed.”

Dave Burchell’s ’67 Nova TS

Following that incident the rest of Saturday evening’s racing schedule qualifying was cancelled.

Over the weekend two Outlaw 10.5 racers and also a Pro Mod team were forced to withdraw from competition. Wes Goddard had a significant glancing blow with Fred DeJonge’s FD Power PM Camaro during pre-race testing on Friday. Then on Saturday 10.5 class drivers Trevor Deeks (London) and Joe Colavita (Bolton) both impacted the guard walls with their machines.

Deeks’ was the most consequencial of the those three — as his Pontiac (a former Greg Anderson Pro Stocker) suffered severe damage to both sides of the race car.

Trevor Deeks’ Outlaw ten five – car before and after ; (

We wish everybody involved the very best in scheduling repairs and returning.  All six race teams are very important components to the Napa Ultimate Showdowns season series race card.

In refection of all this – I was reminded by something someone once said somewhere about our sport.

“Drag racing is like going swimming in the ocean. Sharks live in the ocean – some swimmers will get bit.”

Posted by Bruce Biegler

Photos by Brennan Shortall – Darwin Kent and Stacee Kenington-Richards

To view more images from this event visit our photo gallery: HERE