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Sat, 22 Sep 2001, 03:49 PM

Paisley Returns to Action in New Jersey
Courtesy of NHRA Communications

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- Imagine the thoughts that fill one's mind as they're cruising down one of the nations fastest drag strips at more than 150 mph, and in an instant one of the most recognizable vehicles in import drag racing goes out of control and decides to play 'chicken' with a concrete guardwall. That's what happened to Craig Paisley and his immaculate 1997 Toyota Supra May 20 at Gainesville Raceway.

Paisley, who was airlifted to the local hospital, suffered, among other things, four broken ribs and a concussion, not to mention a pretty beat-up race car. Thanks to hours and hours of hard work, Paisley and his Supra are both fully recovered and will be back on the track Sunday, Sept. 23 for the conclusion of the rain-delayed Nitto Tire NHRA Import Nationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

Paisley, 31, has been import drag racing for the past four years. He became involved in the rapidly growing sport to promote his shop, Paisley Automotive, which has been in business for more than a decade ago.

"We built the car as a way to promote the shop," said Paisley, currently second in the NHRA Summit Import Drag Racing Series Modified points standings. "The shop is what got us started in racing. The car is a great way to create exposure for the shop."

The Hicksville, N.Y. resident feels NHRA's involvement in import drag racing brings immediate respect to one of motorsports quickest growing genres.

"NHRA is drag racing," said Paisley, who has won close to fifty import events in his short career. "NHRA's involvement opens the door to a mainstream audience. It delivers the sport to an audience that would normally have no interest in import drag racing. The races are well organized and there's a professionalism in the winners circle you don't see at the other events."

Paisley, who has career-best times of 8.17 seconds at more than 164 mph, says he doesn't see a personal best in the future on Sept. 23 because he and crew chief Rasheme Denton will be trying to achieve the performance marks they had prior to the crash at Gainesville.

"Englishtown is my home and I want to put on a good show for the home crowd, but I feel we'll be a bit off with the tune-up." said Paisley. "I feel some added pressure because of the points race, (Paisley trails Modified points leader Chris Rado by 30 points) so we need to get back to where we were as quickly as possible."

The sport of import drag racing has taken off in the recent years faster then tech stocks on Wall St. and Paisley has a theory as to why.

"It goes back to the '70s," said Paisley. "I used to live next to a gas station and saw all the lines during the gasoline crisis. My mom drove a big, gas-guzzling station wagon and then she bought a Honda, as did many people. So, us kids grew up in Japanese cars. That's what we grew up in and that's what we know, and Japanese cars aren't going anywhere."

At the Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals at Pomona, Calif. this summer, Efren Vasquez drove Abel Ibarra's Mazda in the 8.90 Super Comp category and Paisley feels the import drivers could learn a lot from racing against the top drag racers in the world.

"You could learn so much from competing against those guys," said Paisley. "You could learn how to cut better reaction times. The experience would be tremendous."

Import and domestic cars on the same drag strip? Could this be in the near future?

"The Ford versus Chevy rivalry is good, but American versus Japan would be huge," said Paisley.

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