Brian Lohnes got his start in drag racing at New England Dragway. This weekend he returns to his home track at the peak of his profession.
But Lohnes won’t be signing many autographs, and he won’t be making passes down the New England Dragway lanes. Lohnes will be in the FOX television broadcast booth, alongside Tony Pedregon, living out his dream job.
“I became so attached to New England Dragway that, when I was in college, I would work on Friday mornings at UMass (Amherst), then I would drive up to the track to announce on a Friday night, and I would sleep in the back room of the tower on Friday and Saturday nights, and go back Sunday,” Lohnes said. “What is funny is that that back room is where we broadcast from. So now the room I used to sleep in I will be announcing an NHRA race from.”
Growing up south of Boston, Lohnes used to watch the NHRA races with his father, who had competed at New England Dragway himself. That is where he developed his love for the sport. When he was old enough to drive, Lohnes caught the itch himself and brought his pickup truck to New England Dragway to try his hand on the quarter-mile.
“I started racing at New England Dragway when I was a teenager, and my father and I started racing together,” he said. “But I was bad. I didn’t have the skill set to really be successful racing, and the more time I spent there, the more it showed.”
Lohnes found his niche, however, when he got a job working in the tech department for the track. He would inspect cars on Wednesday and Friday street nights, and he was happy to have found a job that kept him close to the track and part of the racing community at New England Dragway. Little did he know at the time that staying close to that community would take him to the top of the sport he loves.
Announcing was not something he had thought about much at that point, as he was happy in the role he was in. But he said he was in a motorsports club while in college at UMass, and his friends, who were impressed with his knowledge, suggested he do some announcing for Sports Car Club of America races.
“The first race I ever announced was an SCCA race at New Hampshire International Speedway,” he said. “Then I got a chance at Lebanon Valley Speedway and did some announcing there. That summer I came back to New England Dragway and started announcing there.”
At first he was only announcing street nights at the track, but there was no hiding his talent, and New England Dragway general manager Joe Lombardo made sure of it. Lombardo would often ask people at big shows to come in and listen to Lohnes' work.
“Joe Lombardo has been an incredible, positive influence in my life,” Lohnes said. “When traveling series came in, he would tell them to listen to me, and the result was that I started getting some jobs outside the track.”
The first big break came when Lohnes was hired by the International Hot Rod Association, which was the sanctioning body for New England Dragway at the time. He said Lombardo had asked the IHRA to give him some time on the microphone during their big event, and that opened the door for him.
He worked there until 2011, when the NHRA came calling to have him be part of their event announcing team. The final leap came at the end of last season when the NHRA needed a new man in the broadcasting booth, and chose Lohnes.
“I would’ve been perfectly fine being a track announcer for the rest of my life,” he said. “But I was presented the chance and I took it. It’s awesome. I am so fortunate.”
He said the new job has created some new challenges for him, but he has enjoyed them and is thrilled to be where he is now.
“When you’re calling a race on a PA, it’s stream of consciousness,” he said. “You’re just talking about what’s going on in the moment. But now, Sunday race day is five hours, and we have to fit it into a three-hour broadcast. The biggest adjustment is that I used to have two minutes to announce a pair and talk about them, now I have 12 seconds, and I have to decide what to say and deliver it. It’s not scary, because I love drag racing and I love announcing, but it is a fun challenge.”
This weekend will be a homecoming that he will always remember. Lohnes said many people he was close to when he worked here are still involved with the track, and his father will be competing in the event for just his second time ever at a national event.
“I just can’t wait to get to the track and see everyone,” he said. “I’m coming home.”
Results are in
Friday night at Lee USA Speedway the winners were Bobby Baillargeon (Late Model Sportsmen), Adam Knowles (Six Shooter Feature 1), Shane Horvath (Six shooter feature 2), Skeeter Pearce (Pure Stocks) and Jason Paquet (Granite State Mini Cups).
The American Canadian Tour made its return to Star Speedway on Saturday with Joey Polewarczyk taking down the win in the ACT Dream Ride 150. The special event raises money to support the Special Olympics, and each driver was paired with a Special Olympic athlete prior to the race for driver introductions. Other winners on Saturday night were Chris Curtis (Street Stocks), JT Cashman (Six Shooters) and Mike LeFort (Fast 4’s).
A look ahead
In addition to the NHRA’s return to New England Dragway this weekend, there will be big events at both Lee USA Speedway and Star Speedway. Friday night at Lee USA Speedway, the Granite State Pro Stock Series will roll in for a 100-lap feature, alongside the Street Stocks, Pure Stocks and Six Shooters.
Saturday night at Star Speedway the Late Models, Street Stocks, Mini Stocks, Powder Puff and Fast 4 divisions will all be in competition.
Terrill Covey is a Seacoast Media Group correspondent and longtime observer of auto racing. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at tcovey11.