The need for speed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 5, 2001

Dennis Schewe has always had a need for speed.

Sunday, August 05, 2001

Dennis Schewe has always had a need for speed.

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It started as a young boy, with dirt bikes and go-karts, and eventually evolved into stock car drag racing.

His toy is a little more sophisticated these days. It’s a custom-built, 865-horsepower rocket of a vehicle that goes from 0 to 100 mph in about a second, covers a quarter mile in about 7.5 seconds and tops out at more than 170 mph.

Schewe is fulfilling a boyhood dream. He races rear-engine dragsters.

The need for speed, according to Schewe, is something he’s never outgrown.

&uot;As a kid, I used to say ‘The faster the better’ – all the time,&uot; said Schewe.

And from the first time he took his 1967 Olds 442 to Neda Raceway in Cedar Falls, Iowa, it was all over; he was a racer for life.

&uot;I was hooked – instantly,&uot; said Schewe. &uot;And it never goes away either. You want to go faster and faster.&uot;

The owner of Dennis Schewe Construction in Moscow Township in rural Freeborn County, Schewe has gone faster this summer than ever before. In his 13th year racing rear-engine dragsters, Schewe is currently in third place in the Super Pro Class point standings at Tri-State Raceway in Earlville, Iowa. He hopes to be on top by season’s end.

Schewe races now for the same reason he did as a kid. For the thrill of it. Schewe endures a G-force of about 3 on the starting line.

&uot;That’s what’s fun,&uot; said Schewe. &uot;It’s like being shot out of a cannon. More so than the speed, it’s the acceleration that’s the thrill.&uot;

Schewe is not alone in his endeavors. His wife, Gerry, is his biggest fan and is with him every step of the way as an integral part of the racing team.

&uot;I couldn’t do it without her,&uot; said Schewe.

&uot;It’s a commitment,&uot; said Gerry Schewe.

The couple travels virtually every weekend from April through October, with trips as far away as Colorado and Wyoming.

The Schewes are well known on the circuit, Dennis with his trademark straw hat and Gerry with her outgoing, bubbly personality. They pride themselves in being unique in more ways than one.

For starters, the motor on Schewe’s dragster is based on a small block Chevrolet with the cubic inches increased to 430.

&uot;We do it to be different,&uot; said Schewe. &uot;It’s easier to make horsepower with a larger motor. This is more of a challenge.&uot;

&uot;Everybody has a big block,&uot; said Gerry Schewe.

The Schewes take a lot of pride in their current dragster – their fourth since 1989 – and with good reason. It’s not only unique, it’s maintained to perfection.

The current car is valued around $70,000, according to Schewe, with the motor worth about $25,000. It burns fuel that costs $11 a gallon and turns around 8,000 RPMs at the finish line.

Schewe races in the fastest division of the Sportsman Class. He’d like to move up, but said it’s difficult to do without a major sponsor.

&uot;The cost is tremendous when you move up,&uot; said Schewe. &uot;The next class up would probably cost $150,000 to run a car for a year. The class after that would be about $1 million. To run a Top Fuel dragster, you’re talking $3 to $6 million a year.&uot;

Schewe’s biggest sponsor is his construction business, and the exposure has definitely helped attract customers. His other big sponsor is Earthsoils.

Prize money ranges from $1,000 for winning a normal weekend event to $12,000 for NHRA divisional races to $20,000 for national events.

Schewe reached the national semifinals last year and, to date, has three victories this summer. In June he registered back-to-back wins on a weekend, an extremely rare feat.

While Schewe feels good about what he’s accomplished on the track this year, he still allows some room to dream.

&uot;I would like to go faster and quicker,&uot; he said. &uot;Actually, I think the Top Fuel cars now are almost too fast. They’re at 330 mph now. They’re on the edge all the time.

&uot;Not that I wouldn’t mind going that fast.&uot;