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Tom Borgia did not have to show up in Cleves, Ohio, on Saturday night, but the Anderson County drag racer would not have missed the trip to Edgewater Sports Park, located just outside Cincinnati, for anything.
The local drag racer only had to formalize his championship in the United Manual Transmission Racers South in the final race of the 2012 season Saturday. Borgia already had an insurmountable lead in the Street Stick division even before Saturday’s racing card.
“I compete in everything,” Borgia said with a laugh.
Over this summer, he has practically dominated his class with a 1995 Ford Mustang he has totally rebuilt.
His racing travels have taken him not only to Edgewater, his favorite track, but also to Ohio Valley in Louisville and Clay City. He’s also raced at Columbus, Ohio.
It has been a long journey back from Nov. 26, 2006.
That night, in Atco, N.J., the Volkswagen Beetle he was racing hit the wall after crossing the finish line.
Although Borgia was not seriously hurt – he just had some bruises – there were questions about his return to the track.
Since that night, he’s moved to the hometown of his wife, the former Lisa Hansley, and sons Gary and Toby. He’s opened his own business, Anderson Automotive Repair, and satisfied the six-year itch to return to the track.
“It’s in my blood,” Borgia says. “I was tuning other people’s cars. I was fixing other people’s cars. I couldn’t get away from it.”
He spent nearly a year fixing up the Mustang he’d bought in Columbus. It has a 302 engine before unveiling it with three races in 2011. Borgia was all in for 2012.
The Street Stick class is one where the cars are not quite as fast,” says Borgia, who raced professionally along the East Coast from 2003-06. “The fastest this car has gone is 109 mph. It averages about 106. It can get from 0-109 in 12.5 seconds.”
The competition drives similar vehicles. “One has a Dodge Neon. Some drive trucks,” Borgia says.
Early in the season, however, it was apparent that Borgia’s handiwork was the one to beat. Before Saturday, he’d been on the strip 11 times with four firsts, a second and three semi-final finishes. He knew he had clinched the championship after a UMTR event at Clay City.
It has been a lifelong journey for Borgia, who fell in love with the track growing up in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., 78 miles north of New York City. He made his first trip to the track in 1977, when he was 4, to see his father race.
By age 9, he was hanging around a neighbor’s machine shop. He’s been tinkering or dragging ever since.
A stint in the Navy honed those skills as Borgia worked on F-14 and F-18 fighter planes.
“They are similar (to cars),” he said. “Aerodynamics are aerodynamics. They are similar in the hydraulics, the shocks and the struts.”
But there are differences.
“(The Mustang) is a piston engine. It is internal combustion, like planes from World War II,” Borgia says. “I worked on jets in the Navy.”
The love of speed never changed.
It’s all about the show and experience of the strip. “It is the sounds. It is the smell of burning tires. No matter where you are watching, it is exciting,” Borgia says.
Even before the wreck that sent him to the sidelines, Borgia had been racing for 20 years. He’s tried the dirt tracks but says with a laugh, “That is too much work and the car takes a beating.”
Drag racing? It is a series of heats on a strip anywhere from 1/8 to 1/4 mile long. A recent Saturday night at Edgewater saw Borgia race in seven elimination heats. The total track time was about three minutes.
But it was expensive. In addition to entry fees and travel costs, there is that VP 110 Octane racing fuel that he burns at a rate of about 1.5 miles a gallon He will use four gallons for a racing card that is, in effect, five or six miles of driving.
There are constant repairs, tuneups and improvements.
“The definition of drag racing,” Borgia laughs, “is buying parts you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t know.”
All summer, Tom Borgia has been impressing people on the local drag racing circuit. He plans, however, to move up in class for 2013. “The cars go faster. Some will go up to 180 mph in that class,” he says.
But for now, he will savor his success in 2012. He keeps the Mustang at his shop and he says his trophy will be there, too.
Borgia laughs. “So I can look at it every day.”