One family drives to stay together
the way to the finish line
|Ed Tripp leaves the starting line at the Sikeston Drag Strip while
his sister, Kim Lerche and Aunt Carla Tripp photograph the race from
behind the line. Race weekends are family events for the Tripps,
who race four cars and often have as many as two dozen people gathered
at the race track.
A cloud of gray smoke
hovers over the asphalt. An acrid odor of alcohol fumes and burning
rubber fills the air. When the second of seven lights on the starting “tree” glows bright, the steady thump of
Ed Tripp’s idling 496-cubic-inch motor becomes a thunderous roar.
The 30-year-old drag racer smashes the accelerator to the floor and waits
for the starting light, his thumb pressed solidly against a control that
disengages the transmission. His father, Harry, kneels alongside the
track, his fingers held tightly to his ears. Standing directly behind
the starting line, camera and camcorder in hand, are Ed’s sister
Kim and his Aunt Carla. More members of the Tripp family watch from the
exciting,” Ed’s sister, Kim Lerche,
says of watching her brother and cousins race. “It’s a
ball of emotions. You’re
hopeful that they’re going to do really good. You’re afraid that
they’re not going to do good and, in the back of your mind, there’s
the fear that something will happen.”
(at right) and his girlfriend, Kelly Montgomery, watch as one of
Mark's cousins race. The son of Melvin Tesson and Marilyn Jo (Tripp)
Tesson, Mark is one-fourth of the second generation of Tripp racers.
As the final yellow
light on the starting tree begins to glow, Ed releases the transmission
brake. His enormous rear tires spin and then grab the pavement. His
front wheels lift off ground, and his car launches forward just as
the green start light comes on. Barely five seconds later, the car
is down the 1/8-mile raceway.
Lights at the end
of the track come on in the opponent’s lane, indicating
a loss for Ed. Disappointed, the Tripps turn their attention back to the
starting line and wait for another relative to make a run.
is a family affair for the Tripps — the nine sons and daughters
of Sam and Loretta Tripp, their spouses, children and grandchildren.
Between them the family owns four race cars, which they house in
a shared five-bay garage near their homes in Fredericktown. Nearly
every weekend, from March through October, the family gathers together
to go racing.
just how we were raised. We do everything together, with each other
and for each other,” says Kim. “We
think that when your family members are doing something, you’re
supposed to be there with them.”
|Each weekend the Tripp’s four cars occupy the same space
at the Sikeston Drag Strip. From left are Jerry and Jerry Lee’s
1968 Super Stock-class Camaro, Roger and Roger Wayne’s 1997
Pro Stock-class Camaro, Mark Tesson’s 1985 Chevy Super Stock
S-10 pickup and the Pro Stock 1992 Camaro, owned by Melvin Tesson
and Harry and Ed Tripp.
Whether taking pictures,
watching from the sidelines or helping the driver position the
car at the starting line, the Tripps all do their part as four
young members of the tight-knit family vie for bragging rights
and trophies at the Sikeston Drag Strip.
Four cousins — Ed
Tripp, Roger Wayne Tripp, Jerry Lee Tripp and Mark Tesson — all
race. Their fathers raced when they were young and now are part-owners
of the family’s racing fleet and help maintain the cars.
The moms and wives prepare meals, see that everyone has enough
water to drink, watch the small children and generally organize
the weekly migration from Fredericktown to the Sikeston raceway.
has a part somewhere, whether it’s important or unimportant,” says
Kim, a Black River Electric Cooperative employee. “Everybody
is involved somehow, some way.”
While Mark Tesson makes repairs to his racing truck his cousin,
Kim Lechre, and girlfriend, Kelley Montgomery, chat. Whether mother,
sister, cousin, wife or girlfriend, the women in the Tripp family
are supportive of the racing hobby. The whole family pitches in to
make race weekends possible.
While the drivers
and the dads seem to be the stars, the family is quick to say it’s
the women who make race weekends possible “The
moms are the key to it,” Ed says. “If they weren’t
into it, it wouldn’t happen.”
It’s the dads,
though, who got the Tripp family racing tradition started nearly 40
years ago. Sammy, Roger, Harry
and Jerry were the oldest boys in the family. Together with sisters
Carolyn and Marilyn Jo and younger siblings Tom, Clifford and Susan,
the family was always close, doing everything and going everywhere
The four older boys
shared a love for cars. Sammy (his real name is Darrell) sparked the
interest by building plastic model cars. Later, he brought home hot
rod magazines, which he shared with his younger brothers. When Sammy
returned from military service, he bought a 1965 GTO. Roger and Harry
saved lawn-mowing money and bought a ’61
Impala when they turned 16.
When Roger and Jerry
brought home a ’56
Chevy and began building a race car, their mother was a bit confused by
the goings-on in the family garage.
|Three members of the
first generation of racing Tripps watch as Ed Tripp and Mark Tesson
work on one of the family’s racing
vehicles. Seated at left are Roger and Jerry Tripp. Standing is Harry
“My mom called
need to come out here and see what your brothers are doing.’” Harry
recalls her saying. “She said, ‘That
car was fine yesterday. Now look at it! They’ve
got the hood off of it. They’ve got the back
end jacked up and they’re pulling the motor.
What are they doing?’
“I said, ‘Mom,
they’re making a hot rod out of it.’”
the elder Tripps (both now deceased) embraced
their sons’ racing
ways. “They looked at it as kind of staying
out of trouble, you know,” says
Roger, in a rare spoken observation from the
most taciturn Tripp brother.
Each of the boys
found good jobs. Sammy, home after a year working
for NASA in Houston, took a job with a railroad.
Roger and Harry were hired at the General Motors
plant in St. Louis. Jerry went to work at Chrysler.
In their spare time, they raced.
As the brothers
married and began raising families, racing became a luxury that none
of them could afford and they quit the sport.
|Harry Tripp and his son, Ed, review a computer printout of their
speed and elapsed time following a race. Drag racers must predict
their performance before each race and post their expected time on
their car door. Going too fast results in disqualification.
Skip ahead nearly
20 years. A new generation of Tripps turns 16 and discovers that they,
too, liked the thrill of speed. Unbeknownst to their parents, cousins
Roger Wayne and Ed were street racing.
never smart, but we thought we were smart about it,” Ed
says. “We’d post people at
each end to watch for traffic. We had
a couple of two-way radios and one guy
bought a little handheld scanner. We’d
listen for the police.
going to do it, one way or another.”
it was the boys’ attempts at
legal racing that landed them in
trouble. The cousins began taking
their daily drivers to the drag strip,
and their parents got wind of it.
told them that if you tear your
car up, you won’t be able to
drive to school. You’ll have
to ride the bus,” says Carla,
wife and mother of Roger Wayne. “We
told them that if they were serious
about it, we’d try to look
for a car. That’s how the
second generation got started.”
|Roger Tripp listens as a track official explains the reasons for
a race delay, while Roger Wayne Tripp waits on the starting line.
their father to guide them, one
by one, the younger Tripps took
up drag racing. Nearly 10 years later
the sons do all the driving, and
most of the mechanical work, but
the fathers are always close at hand.
car moves, my dad is right there. If he had two broken legs, he’d
go,” says Jerry Lee,
adding that despite serious health problems his father, Jerry, continues
to make the weekly trip to the track when he can. “It’s
something we can do together.”
much as possible, the cousins
avoid racing each other, though their
ultimate goal is to line up against
one another in the final race of
the night. In that case, family members
say, they merely hope nobody gets
Perhaps because the
family has such a long history in the sport, there isn’t
much talk of danger. In
two generations, none of the Tripp racers has
ever been injured while racing and they
all agree that organized racing on the drag strip
is better than outlaw racing
on the street.
|Carla Tripp helps her son, Roger Wayne, pack the parachute that
helps stop the car at the end of a race.
“As long as
I know the car is safe and I know he has all his
safety gear on, I’m fine with it,” says
Carla, who routinely helps her son pack
his parachute before
each race. “We know where they’re
not out on the street
getting in trouble.”
racing is a sport the entire family
enjoys, not just for the
thrill of the racing but
also for the opportunity
to spend time together.
And that, Kim says, is
a Tripp family tradition.
“We’re all together and we’re having
a good time together. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be,” she