Off to the Races
/ Author: Rachel Debling
/ Categories: Guide magazine, Locals, Local 305 /
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Off to the Races

While her job at a long term care home can have its stressful moments, Local 305 member Cecilia Wight finds relief in her high-octane hobby: drag racing bikes built from the ground up by her fiancé

By Rachel Debling

TO LOOK AT CECILIA WIGHT and her career, one might not assume that she has a daredevil side. Blonde, friendly, and modest, you might mistake her for a news anchor or your favourite cool aunt. And over the course of her 27-year career at Telfer Place Retirement Residence in Paris, Ontario, she has certainly experienced her share of sights and sounds.

But when you find out that she spends her weekends drag racing against men twice her size, your initial opinion may change.

Balancing her job as a cook at the long term care home with her high-speed hobby may sound like an odd fit to outsiders. You need to turn back the clock nearly three decades, to when Cecilia first started at Telfer Place, to understand how she got here. Despite how much she loves it now, she didn’t always have high-octane fuel coursing through her veins.

BACK IN 1996, CECILIA RECEIVED a hot tip: there was an opening in housekeeping at her friend’s workplace, and she felt it would be a great fit for Cecilia.

“It was a great-paying job, with a pension and everything,” she recalls of her introduction to Telfer Place. “Then it turned out that I really liked it! I love the people. And when I was told you get more hours in the kitchen,

I thought I’d give it a try.”

Within a year of working the housekeeping circuit, Cecilia—or CeCe, as her friends call her—moved into the position of dietary aide, then cook. She’s held that position, happily, ever since.

But unbeknown to her, another circuit was calling her name.

Following her breakup with her ex, with whom she shares two children and two stepdaughters, she took up a part-time job at a nearby Tim Hortons, as she hadn’t yet been offered full-time hours at Telfer Place. It was there she met Brad, who would soon become her partner in life, and on the road.

“He would often hang around, and one time he asked if I wanted to go out,” she says. Intrigued, she said yes. They quickly began dating, and not long after, Brad popped the question and they moved in together.

BETWEEN THE TWO, THEY HAVE seven children and seven grandchildren, which Cecilia describes as their “big, happy family.” But it wasn’t just an expanded family that Brad introduced her to. Another life-changing prospect was on the horizon, and, you guessed it, it was motorsports.

“Brad told me, ‘I build race bikes,’” she says. “He’s been doing it for 20, 25 years now, so when we got together, he was in the middle of building one, and I started helping him.

“About five years into our relationship, he’s like, ‘Hey, would you like to get on a bike?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. Let’s try this!’”

Though Cecilia had never ridden a motorbike before, she was well familiar with recreation vehicles, from ATVs to snowmobiles, and soon signed up to get her motorcycle license.

“Brad said, ‘I’m not going to teach you all my bad habits,’” she says. “So, I signed up for a course and started fresh.”

As Cecilia secured her license, Brad got busy prepping her for the track, putting a small motor into one of his existing bikes for her to use. (“At least he called it a small motor!” Cecilia jokes.) Soon, she was ready to ride.

FOR THE UNINITIATED, IT CAN be easy to hear “bikes” and picture the low-riders of Sons of Anarchy or the flocks of riders who take to country highways as soon as the weather permits. And though Cecilia and Brad do have street bikes, they both tend to prefer drag racing on closed tracks.

“The roads can be so dangerous,” she says. “We’re not on our street bikes as much. There are so many cars and so many things that could go wrong, whereas at the track, it’s all controlled. You know you’re 90 percent safe there.”

It’s that thrilling 10 percent that keeps Cecilia going back time and time again. Though she loves the fast-paced nature of her job and the opportunity to connect with residents, it’s her after-hours passion that keeps her motoring—literally and figuratively.

“I’ve done an 8.51-second quarter mile,” she says. “And my fastest speed is 152 miles per hour—yup, miles per hour. I’m pretty excited because I’m a little faster than the boys down at the track right now!”

Cecilia participates in what is called ETP racing, a set of rules that allows her to race against opponents who are larger and have more powerful bikes. Basically, two riders face off, and each predicts how long it will take them to get to the finish line. The one who is the closest without going over their actual time wins.

Because of this structure, Cecilia has been able to climb the ranks at her home track of Cayuga International Dragway Park, about an hour southeast of Paris, Ontario, in only four years. On Saturday, September 30, another personal best was achieved: Cecilia raced in the prestigious Ontario Bracket Finals in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Sadly, a podium finish eluded Cecilia, but the absence of hardware didn’t dampen her spirits.

“It wasn’t in my stars to win, but we had a great time,” says Cecilia. “Brad raced the bike he built for me on Sunday, and he went to the finals, only to lose to his good friend Todd Hope. Funny, Brad also built his bike!”

THE RACETRACK COMMUNITY HAS PROVIDED Cecilia with a great amount of support and has become somewhat of a second family to her and Brad.

“We cheer each other on,” she explains. “It’s kind of like a race family, you know? And they have special weekends—the biggest weekend is for July 1, called the Canadian Nitro Weekend. All the big guys come up from the States, and they put on a huge show.”

Despite its madcap reputation, Cecilia says drag racing is an all-age sport, and not just when it comes to its audience members. For youth, there is a category called junior, or miniature, dragsters—and the youngest racer currently in Cecilia’s group is only five years old.

“She goes 28 miles per hour,” Cecilia gushes. “It’s so cute!”

Her coworkers and the residents of Telfer Place love to hear about her adventures, too. One gentleman in particular, a family friend, often asks whether she was at the track over the weekend. Others overhear, and soon she’s showing them photos of her latest outings.

“The residents think it’s pretty neat,” says Cecilia, adding with a laugh, “but my coworkers are like, you’re nuts!”

CECILIA IS HAPPY TO SEE that the sport is being embraced more widely and that, to some degree, it is shaking off its former reputation as a pastime for nogoodniks.

“When I was young, it was seen as scarier,” she says. “Like, oh my gosh, there’s a biker gang! And we’d all run and hide.

“Now, people are seeing how fun it can be and the charity work that comes with it. It’s also a lot more accessible, and there’s a lot of younger and older people participating. The community has definitely evolved into a better place for everyone.” 

A Force to Be Reckoned With

Thirty-seven-year-old Brittany Force comes from a family of drag racers, with father John Force and sisters Courtney and Ashley all in the same business. She holds two top fuels records in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA)—the top fuel drag racing record with a run of 3.676 seconds over 1,000 feet and the fastest top fuel run in history at 338.17 miles per hour—and has 16 career wins. Her achievements don’t stop there: she became the first woman to win the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in 2016, and three years later in 2019, she became the first woman driver to be the number-one qualifier in top fuel at the US nationals.

Sources: wikipedia.org, nhra.com

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