Fed Up With Midwest Weather, Racer Charges Into Possible Tornado

Fed Up With Midwest Weather, Racer Charges Into Possible Tornado

Earlier this month, video was widely circulated on social media of racers at Missouri’s Bonne Terre Dragstrip casually operating business as usual as a visible funnel cloud — or possibly scud cloud, but nevertheless daunting — trekked across the field just beyond the strip’s terminus. As the Midwest has been plagued with months of rainfall and devastating flooding and severe weather had become a near daily occurrence, the video was just one of many comical illustrations on the web of how fed up Midwesterners had become with the weather. 

The video is very much real, and not a creative piece of editing.

On the evening of Friday, June 7, Bonne Terre was hosting its weekly test-and-tune. Slade Nichols, the driver seen making a lick right in the direction of the twister in the clip, was making passes in his Mustang for the first time; he had encountered mechanical problems earlier in the evening and was determined to get this run in, despite the ominous clouds closing in on the Eastern Missouri strip.

Photos courtesy Anna Frohmann

As Nichols was preparing to stage and make his run is when Laura Wines, who was working in Bonne Terre’s timing tower, says the funnel appeared out of nowhere.

“There was nothing in the forecast for that evening. I was watching from the tower and I saw the shadow of the dark clouds coming across and rain was starting to come down over the hillside. I radio’ed down to the guys on the starting line to let them know and they said, ‘well, let’s try to get these last few hits in before we shut this down.’ 

“I went ahead and put numbers in and we sent that last guy out there, and he pulls up to the line and that’s when that thing came across the field. The starter hit the button, and away he went,” Wines says with a laugh. “They thought, ‘well, what can you do?’ I stayed up in the tower during the whole thing to cover up all the equipment in case any rain came in, because it’s not the best-built tower in the world.”

Nichols’ family, who was filming on the starting line and could see the storm in the distance, were of the “just send it” mindset, according to Wines. “I don’t think the starter saw it before he hit the button. The racer and his family did, and they were good. They didn’t care, they just wanted to get the run in. They had worked all day on that car and he said he didn’t care what was at the end of the track, he was getting that hit in.”

Wines estimates the funnel cloud was around a mile from the end of the shutdown area. The storm isn’t believed to have done any damage in the area, but she notes, “you could see it kicking up dust and dirt. But where it went through, there weren’t any homes or buildings.”

Video by Chase Nichols

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