ESPN commentator and National Hot Rod Association announcer Alan Reinhart has never been to a race track where he didn’t feel welcome.
But as he sat in the tower high above the Yellowstone Drag Strip on Saturday, he said Billings went “above and beyond.”
As dragsters’ tires spun and engines roared, Reinhart sat overlooking the track, autographing black-and-white, and pink-and-white, checkered race flags.
A group of kids, anxiously anticipating Reinhart’s arrival, got together and made signs welcoming the NHRA celebrity. Made of poster board of all different colors, the signs hung in the tower window toward the stands as Reinhart went to work with a silver marker.
Since they gave him something, he wanted to give something in return, he said.
Reinhart, who lives in Tuscon, Ariz., where he grew up, spends a good portion of his time on the road.
This weekend, he came to Billings to shoot two special vignettes, running about a minute and a half each, for ESPN: One on the Yellowstone Drag Strip, which sits off Highway 3 in Acton, and the other on Syl Schied, a racer from Billings.
Both will air later this summer, Reinhart said. But the ultimate goal is to support the sport he loves.
“The object,” he said, “is to show people that drag racing doesn’t only happen in Chicago and Dallas. Somewhere near you, there’s a track.”
About 1,200 people came out over the course of the day on Saturday, and there were about 150 cars.
Reinhart, who’d been to Montana, but not Billings, said, “I’ve been impressed from the moment I entered the gate.”
He said the Yellowstone Drag Strip is a “spectacular” track for its size.
“The fact that they have a concrete starting line all the way out to 300 feet — that’s not the norm for a local track,” Reinhart said, adding that the grandstand seating was a nice amenity as well.
Another nice feature, he said, is that there’s racing for all ages from 8-year-olds on up.
Reinhart said racing is a common family affair these days.
So common, in fact, they even have a word for it: “The Nitro Generation.”
Schied’s family, whom he’s featuring, belongs in that category. He said there are multiple generations of racers in the family, and oftentimes, they’re racing on the same day.
“There are so many stories like this over the years,” Reinhart said.
At age 30, C.W. McCarthy, the new owner of the track, is another example.
McCarthy has been racing since he could walk, and his family has been involved with the sport for even longer.
Back in 2003, when the track was built, McCarthy’s father was one of the first track managers.
There were originally five owners. Slowly, they were bought out. When the last owner passed away, the track was put up for sale. That’s when McCarthy decided to buy it.
Now, he’s trying to get the place known, an endeavor that ESPN’s national coverage can help with.
McCarthy said when he got a call from Matt Levonas, the NHRA division 6 director, letting him know that his track was chosen to be featured on ESPN, he couldn’t believe it.
“Are you serious?” he asked. “And of course as soon as I hung up the phone, I had to call and tell everyone that we’re going to be on ESPN.”
For anyone who wants to start racing, McCarthy’s advice is simple: Come on out.
He said there are beginner classes on the weekends, and cars of all types are welcome. He said they’ve even seen some minivans.
Reinhart said the same thing.
“Take the first step,” he advice. “Once you do, it’s pretty easy to get hooked.”
“The camaraderie out here is unparalleled.”