For the Elizabethton couple of Carl Widener and Candis Bise, the answer is easy. Their perfect date night is rocketing down the drag strip at Thunder Valley.
Both Widener and Bise have been big winners this season in the DER Bracket Racing Series at Bristol Dragway.
While many wives and girlfriends complain about their husbands and boyfriends spending too much time with the race car, Widener has found someone as much into it as he is. “I got her into it and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Widener said. “She loves it every bit as much as I do if not more.”
In fact when they aren’t competing, they like to go as spectators to the annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
“We’re both car freaks, both car nuts,” Bise said.
The joke is they are the Ricky and Danica of the local drag strips, except they both win races.
Widener has eight wins and 12 final-round appearances over the past two seasons in the Pro Footbrake and Sportsman classes. Bise has one victory this season in the Trophy division to go along with three final-round and three other semifinal appearances.
Both use the word focus as the key for their success.
“You have to focus and pay attention to what you are doing,” said Widener, who races a pair of 1987 Buick Regals. “You have to have a fast car too. It’s like having the right tools for the job. You have to have the right tool as well.”
Bise added, “It takes everything you’ve got when you’re at the starting line. As I’m pulling up to the light and staging, I will hold my breath until the lights fall, until I see that green light.”
They have known each other since they were kids. They started dating 15 years ago soon after Widener graduated from Happy Valley High School. A couple of years later, he started drag racing and Bise was a constant companion.
She expressed the desire to race and three years ago, she started racing an S-10 pickup truck. Now, she has moved up to a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro which they occasionally take to car shows around the area.
“I’m in the middle of my third year,” Bise said. “I was always over there, so we finally got me something to race. I raced the little truck for two years, but now I have the fresh car that I’ve started racing.”
For Widener, racing was the only sport which he ever showed that much interest in. More specifically, it was drag racing and the Pro Stock ranks with Greeneville driver Allen Johnson which inspired him to get involved in the sport.
“I’ve always been into drag racing and I love Pro Stock more than anything,” he said. “I’ve liked drag racing since I’ve been old enough to walk. I’ve had a love for it and started building my first car when I was 16.”
Widener now jokes that Bise and he are the father of three, two Buicks and one Camaro. While outwardly they look the same, the two Buicks are quite different.
The eighth-mile car is actually the faster of the two, although the top speed Widener reaches in it is 110 mph. The quarter-mile car going a farther distance will top out around 120 mph.
“Everything comes up quicker when you are running the eighth-mile,” he said. “Then, when you get into the quarter-mile car, it changes it up and everything happens a little slower. It takes a little adjustment bouncing back and forth.”
Both boyfriend and girlfriend are involved in the automotive business when they’re not racing.
Widener works as a technican at a garage owned by fellow racer Larry Price Jr., while Bise sells parts at the local Carquest store. There is also plenty of support from their parents and friends like Joe Pearman, Johnny Proffitt and Price. There is also a special neighbor, Virginia Morgan, who allows them to store Bise’s race car in her garage.
If everything goes right, the week leading up to a race is usually more about routine maintenance than rebuilding a whole car.
“Every now and then, you have a catastrophic failure, but hopefully they are few and far between,” Widener said. “You don’t have to make a lot of chassis adjustments and running a good quality slick helps a lot on traction.”
Neither use a delay box on their cars, yet they’ve still been some of the dragway’s best on the starting line. The fact that he races the old-fashioned way gives Widener more satisfaction when he can put together that perfect package.
“Those perfect reaction times and perfect runs are hard to come by, but if you do it long enough, you will have one,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to have a reaction time in one of the cars with the computer in it than doing it the old-fashioned way. When you do it in an old-fashioned footbrake race, you’ve done something.”
Bise’s best effort is a perfect start combined with a dead-on with a nine a or (.009 seconds) off her dial-in time. Still, she often gets nervous in the moments before she pulls up to the starting line.
“The most stressful place is behind the water box,” she said. “When you pull through the water, I’m like calm. I try to be calm, collected and dead focused at that point.”
Neither like to lose, but it’s something they say a racer has to put behind them and be ready to come back the next race.
They know even NHRA World Champions like John Force and Tony Schumacher lose more than they win at Thunder Valley. Still, they thanked DER promoter Red Whittimore and his daughter Lindsey for putting together such a strong bracket series program.
“I think Bristol has the toughest competition out there,” Widener said. “You have the best there is, world champions like Steve Foley and Lauren Freer who take part in the local program. The best drivers in the world race at Bristol Dragway.”
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