It was first time he heard the engines roar. Bruce Perkin, at 13 years old, was transfixed as the smell of burning rubber as it wafted across the track at the Arlington Drag Strip north of Seattle back in 1963.
That one trip shaped his life and his work.
Four years after that, he and his brother George bought a 1955 Chevy and started racing across the Pacific North West, California and Arizona, looking for long straight stretches of road to burn his own rubber.
From that day in Seattle, a life in racing was born,
Now, a half century later, Perkin shows no sign of slowing down. The cars may have changed, but the passion still burns.
But on Saturday, Sept. 19, Perkin will have to sit still for a few hours as the Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneer Society will honour the Maple Ridge resident for his contributions to drag racing over the past four decades.
The event will be held at Shannon Hall at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds and is open to any motorsport enthusiasts to come and celebrate from noon to 4 p.m.
Perkin is one of 13 who will be honoured this year for their contributions in the early days of motorsport in the region.
Categories include hot rodding, custom car building, drag racing and land speed racing, sports car and road racing, motorcycling, power boat racing, as well as car collecting and restoration.
“It’s really quite an honour” said Perkin. “I never expected to be inducted along side so many people I looked up to and competed against. Time has just flown by.”
As a journeyman mechanic, he’s made his working life about cars. His garage is a mini museum to his four-plus decades of racing. Posters from events and photos take up the space not used for tools. In one picture, his son Rob is sitting in the front seat of one of Perkin’s first drag racers. The only thing bigger than the helmet on his then’ five year-old’s head is the smile on his face.
It’s a sport that has united his family.
“Both my boys started racing when they were just five,” said Perkin. “It’s just like any other sport. You pass that passion down to your kids.”
While his 1955 Chevy is a distant memory, it’s what’s under the hood of his current drag racer, a modified 1996 Chevy Beretta, that pique’s his interest. He just covered a quarter mile in 7.79 seconds, topping out at speeds of 280 kilometres an hour.
Looking back, he’s amazed at how much the sport has evolved.
“When I first started racing it was the competition that I loved,” said Perkin. “But now, as the years have gone by, it’s the technology of the sport that’s changed so much.”
He said with the advent of on-board computers has transformed every aspect of the of the race car. No detail is missed, the slight changes can be made. Monitoring everything from the exhaust, drive-shaft speed to oil pressure and everything in between, every ounce of horsepower is there for the taking.
It’s just a matter of knowing what to look for, he said.
“You make one run on any given track and you can go back and tune it perfectly. It’s one of the things that keeps your interest alive.”
Part of what else has kept that desire alive has been his 30-plus year partnership with Lordco.
Another advantage is the ability to work on his own cars.
The hundreds of hours of maintenance he spends over the course of a season for just five or six races would put him in the poor house, he laughs.
In total, Perkin has won three National Hot Rod Association divisional events, has set 10 national records and has finished in the top five of the Division 6 point standings more than four times.
After racing across western Canada and the U.S., he’s grateful to be honoured by the Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneer Society.
Perkin thinks of pioneers of the racing in the Fraser Valley, like Buck Kinney, and finds it hard to put himself in the same class.
Kinney started racing cars in 1951 with a group of friends, calling themselves the Pitt Meadow Stompers. By 1971, he set his first world record and bettered it nine times over the years.
Kinney was inducted Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneer Society in 2001.
“You never actually think you’re going to get nominated. It’s just such a privilege,” Perkin said.