Test and Tune lures many would-be racers to speedway

The event is held at the Gainesville Raceway through March.

A driver of a Ford station wagon takes off from the start line of the Gainesville Raceway during Saturday's Test and Tune.

Matt Walsh/Correspondent
Published: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 7:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 11:12 p.m.

On the outside, it looked pretty much like any other tiny, greenish-blue Honda Civic hatchback from the early '90s. But under the hood, well, that's what gets Joshua Bermudez and Melissa Hernandez moving.

"I just raced the car. It went pretty good," Hernandez said, calculating that the little car hit 99 mph within a quarter-mile. "I always race. All the time. Second gear is the greatest thing — your heart is pounding and you see everything so clear."

Bermudez and Hernandez were just two of dozens of amateur car racers who participated in Test and Tune at the Gainesville Raceway. Scheduled weekly through much of the year, Test and Tune features street-legal cars and dragsters, and draws racers from throughout the region.

Racers such as Bermudez, who works as a mechanic in Gainesville, and Nick Sebastian — driving a red Volkswagen — admit to having drag-raced at night on country roads.

But now they pay $25 to test their cars all day against others in a controlled environment that is safer than the streets — and it's legal.

"I'm more of a Mustang guy, but this is just the daily driver. It's kind of slow — so far 89 mph," Sebastian said. "I have raced on the streets before. Not anymore."

Nate Cross, sales and marketing manager for the Gainesville Raceway, said Test and Tune is held on either Saturdays or Wednesday nights through much of the year at the track on County Road 225 north of Gainesville.

A typical Saturday will have about 100 cars tearing down the track — from the souped-up Japanese cars popular with young people to classic Chevy Novas from the 1960s.

"Some of them are getting ready for our divisional points races later in the season, some just want to race for fun and bragging rights," Cross said.

It's clear at the track that the events are a family affair. Bermudez and Hernandez had their two children in tow. Ernie Griggs, 73, a tire dealer in Ocala, races along with his son.

And then there is the Arnold family of St. Johns County — dad Q.J., mom Michelle and kids Jessica, 17, and Jordan, 14. Arnold used to race dragsters and so did his father. Now it's the girls — they travel throughout the Southeast to race and hope to make it a professional career.

"I've been going to the track since I was a week old, so ever since then, I've been hooked," Jessica said. "It's a rush, but there is so much thinking that goes into it. It's a real mental sport."

Jordan, who is not old enough to drive cars on streets, said the sisters have tried other sports and activities such as soccer, cheer and dance.

"But this is what we were meant to do," she said.

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