Drag Racing, Feature Article, Oregon — May 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Paul Carbaugh, David Owes and Steve Gregory (Issue 95)


By Steve Heeb

When it comes to drag racing Impalas in the Northwest, 1996 must have been a good year.

That’s the year that three Oregonians took up the sport: Paul Carbaugh of Cloverdale; David Owes of Molalla; and Steve Gregory of Portland.

“I’d been goofing around with cars forever,” Steve says. I got bored with showing the cars and decided to start racing.”

Paul turned to the dragstrip after retiring from the US Army.

“I started racing a ’94 Mustang GT,” Paul says of the Ford pony he would race for the first two seasons before seeking something different. “I found this ’62 Impala at a Nostalgia race at Woodburn and had it built into a race car.”

Paul confesses he had originally bought it for his wife Sandy to race.

“I kinda took it over,” he laughs.

Paul’s four-speed Impala received a Ford 9-inch rear end, new heads and a series of other necessary changes.

“It’s been a steady project over the years,” he laughs. “I had to make it more reliable so I changed out the ’62 running gear.”

But Paul has kept the same original 409 motor, which has been updated through the ongoing rebuilds.

“Every event I get faster and the car is more reliable,” he says of bringing the Impala into 12-second round times.

David’s Impala was more in keeping with family tradition.

“My mom had a ’61 Impala,” David recalls. “I found this car just down the street from where I live.”

He says he bought the nearby Impala with intentions of making it a street cruiser.

“I did a lot of cruises in it,” David says. “After a while I decided to take it to Woodburn. Once I did that I was hooked.”

David already had another Impala to use as a parts car while preparing the new Chevy for more serious racing.

“I tried to keep it original but had too much fun at the dragstrip,” he laughs. “The Impalas were never built to be race cars. If you want to go faster you’ve got to spend a little more.”

David has since bought a second parts car from Steve.

“I have a rolling chassis project,” David says. “Eventually we’ll all have 409 cars.”

“It’s the uniqueness of the 409,” Paul says of the Impala’s appeal. “They were legendary in the ’60s.”

Last year Paul even dressed his Impala up to reflect the vintage drag race cars of the ’60s era.

David says he has learned a lot about the 409 cars after meeting Steve at Woodburn.

“I had Impalas as a kid,” Steve says of his early days in McMinnville. “I just fell in love with the 409.”

Steve points out that all three of them really were drawn together by the similarities of their Chevy racers.

“The cars brought us together,” David says of the three bright red Impalas in the nostalgia ranks at Woodburn. “Now we hang out a lot and see each other at the track.”

“We’ve really grown together since then,” Steve adds. “We all know our families, our kids. It’s as much social as it is about racing. Maybe more so.”

“The camaraderie is wonderful,” Paul agrees.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” David says. “I like to travel and do the nostalgia events. I try to meet new people.”

In addition to two nostalgia events at Woodburn, a typical season for the three friends also includes Washington stops at Shelton and Spokane, east to Boise and north to Mission.

“We went up to Mission as a group,” David recalls. “That was a blast.”

Paul tells of another memorable road trip to the Fourth of July race at Spokane.

Following the Sunday race, David had borrowed a bike from Margie Stringham of Yoncalla, Ore.

“David hit a hole and took a header and knocked himself out,” Paul recounts. “He went to the hospital and had to drive back to Oregon with stitches.”

“Her husband Al is a retired Portland fireman and was taking care of me,” David laughs. “I drove home all stitched up and without pain killers. Nine hours in an ugly windstorm down the gorge with a car trailer in tow. Too much fun.”

“They’re all funnier than hell” cracks David Acheson, a Portland-based racer who fields a ’58 Del Ray. “Steve’s the biggest character. Of the three, his car is the fastest.”

“We try to race each other in time trials,” Paul says, adding that he is constantly discovering ways to get the most out of his Impala. “I’m still learning how things affect performance. The faster you go, the more money it will cost you.”

“Me and David (Acheson) used to grudge race against each other,” Dave says of when their cars were more evenly matched. “That was the most fun.”

David says that for several years David Acheson would make the trek from Montana to race at Woodburn.

“He and I used to bet money and we were always so close it was great fun,” David says. “One year I`d win all, next it was him. Sometimes a draw. But always a lot of fun! Then he put in a high horse big block and it was no contest.”

David also recalls cutting a .001 light in a time-trial matchup against Paul, who cut a .003 light to win by mere inches.

“It was the best race ever for both of us,” David laughs. “Plain ol’ heads up racing at its best. Only, he won.”

Even as the racing gets more serious, the trio still manages to have a seriously good time camped out in the Woodburn pits, or whichever track they bring their Impalas to.

“Steve, Paul and David are a great addition to the racing program at the Oldies But Goodies race and the Hot Rod Nationals,” says Woodburn Dragstrip office manager, Elvon Kauffman. “It is a real pleasure to meet racers like these guys who not only love their cars, but also add to the flavor of these events. There are so many original muscle cars that frequent these events, that a fan of the ’50s and ’60s can essentially lose track of time in a virtual hot rod museum. So many beautiful high-horsepower cars draw friends together as is demonstrated by Steve, Paul and Dave.”

Paul says the Impala herd plans to migrate south this August for the Nostalgia Union Weekend at Samoa dragstrip in Eureka, Calif., as well as the West Coast 409 Shootout the same weekend.

“This 409 shootout comes from an event in Ohio each year but is too far to travel to for us on this side of the Rockies,” Paul explains. “People are coming from British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Oregon and California.”

The trio will be among the Oregon contingent with their vintage Impalas at the California gathering.

“Them big old boats,” David says with a nod to his colorful racer. “You just don’t see many of these anymore.”

At least Paul, Steve and David are doing their part to help keep the classic Impalas alive for future generations to appreciate.

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