WINTERPORT — For Mike Bradford, this was pure adrenaline.
Competing in the finals of a T&L Gamblers Series race last month at Winterport Dragway, Bradford, a Lamoine native and passionate drag racer, was, in his own words, “amped up.” After a series of top finishes, he had every right to be as he competed for a first-place finish.
As the tree lit to start the June 5 finals series race, Bradford’s newly remodeled 1937 Chevy Coupe came roaring out of the gate. Within seconds, he had barreled across the finish line and was on his way to receive his results slip.
With a time of 5.810, Bradford had won the race by 0.045 seconds — a small margin, though not an insignificant one in the split-second world of drag racing. But what truly caught Bradford’s eye was the column displaying his reaction time: a perfect 0.500.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Bradford said. “You can’t get it any tighter than that. There’s people who have raced forever and never done it.”
Had Bradford come off the line one one-thousandth of a second earlier, he would have been disqualified for an early start. Instead, with a combination of skill, an elite vehicle and a bit of luck, he achieved a remarkably rare feat in the drag-racing world with a perfect pass.
Bradford, owner of Mike’s Detailing in Lamoine, has been drag racing for the past eight years. He spent two years racing a Mercury Marauder and five racing a prized Mazda purchased from a friend, Les Foss, before moving onto his current vehicle, Rolling Thunder, for the 2021 Winterport season.
With the help of his father, Clifton, Bradford has emerged as one of the top T&L Gamblers series competitors in recent years. The team has finished in the top five of the points series in each of the past three seasons, and the victories, such as the one Bradford earned with his perfect pass, have started to pile up.
Given that anything faster than a perfect package with a .500 reaction time would have disqualified Bradford, he had been aiming for a reaction time closer to the .510 range to give himself a bit of a cushion. As he made his way to get his time slip after the race, he could tell from the crowd that he had pulled off something impressive.
“You don’t really know how you did until you go back and get that time slip, but when I went back, everyone was giving me the thumbs up,” Bradford said. “That was when I knew I did something right. It was the last race, so I pulled right into the winner’s circle.”
The rarity of a perfect package with a .500 light is perhaps comparable to a man landing on the moon or a 200-yard hole-in-one on the golf course — possible, to be sure, but far from an everyday occurrence. The feat stunned tower operator Matt Lang, who told Bradford that his run was unlike anything he’d ever witnessed.
“He told Michael, ‘I’ve been doing this all across the United States at racetracks, and I’ve never seen or heard of a perfect run,”’ Clifton Bradford said. “When I heard that, I got goosebumps going up and down me. It’s just unbelievable.”
Mike and Clifton are far from the only ones in the Bradford family with a passion for drag racing. Mike’s wife, Stephanie, has also made regular appearances at Winterport, and his daughter, Aliyah, has the task of handing her father his time slips after races conclude.
Although still young, Aliyah is already thinking about her own racing career after spending time helping out her dad on the track. The 7-year-old recently made $186 operating a lemonade stand with the goal of raising money to buy her own junior dragster — a dragster that, unbeknownst to Aliyah, her father had already purchased and was keeping in a storage unit.
“I told her if she wanted something bad enough, she had to earn it and work for it, so that’s what she did,” said Bradford, who unveiled the bright-red vehicle to his overjoyed daughter over the Fourth of July weekend. “I felt that she had worked good, so I gave it to her. … It was a magical moment for all of us.”
The Bradfords are sure to have many more of those moments this summer and in future seasons. The T&L Gamblers races, which were scheduled to return July 10 after the Fourth of July weekend rain forced a postponement, are set to run through October, before a new season starts up next May.
Between those races and points races at New Oxford Dragway, Bradford will be busy on the track for the rest of the year. After his latest accomplishment, he has the attention of racers at both venues.
“I’d say they’re intimidated a little bit,” said Clifton Bradford, who then pointed at his son’s back. “There’s a big target right there. He’s the man they all want to run down.”