Drag Illustrated Issue 173, December 2021 - Page 60

D . I . COLUMNIST

On the Road with Van Abernethy

Life is great when things go as planned … and when they don ’ t , well , sometimes it ’ s even better ! I experienced that exact thing recently when news reached me that my planned race weekend in South Carolina had been cancelled due to an unfavorable forecast , and I was literally minutes away from walking out the door .

Suddenly , the possibilities were endless , but since it was already Friday afternoon , the timing was rather difficult . So , without a minute to spare I dashed out the door , realizing I was gonna have to pull a near all-night driving session in order to arrive at Gulfport Dragway more than 10 hours away .
Driving to Mississippi ’ s Gulf Coast wasn ’ t an ideal backup plan at the absolute last minute , but this region is definitely among my favorites late in the year . Nearby Long Beach is beautiful and sparsely populated nearing winter , and it just so happened that the King of the Coast series was racing at Gulfport .
Founded by recent Drag Illustrated cover star Gaylon Rolison Jr ., you ’ d be hard-pressed to find a more laid-back group of sportsman racers anywhere . These folks love grilling steaks , boiling shrimp and racing hard down in the Bayou country . Among them is Stephen Hughes , who ’ s roasting the tires of the vibrant , red Duster pictured . No race season is complete without a trip to Gulfport ... even if it ’ s last minute !
Just before leaving Mississippi , I realized that Florida ’ s Immokalee Regional Raceway was right in the
middle of their winter series , so I took the enjoyable drive along the Mississippi coast , followed by the panhandle route across Florida until I reached I-75 south . I first visited this unique Florida town a decade ago , and it was from returning to Immokalee Regional Raceway in the years that followed that I discovered my most favorite fishing hole on earth , located just down the road in Everglades City .
To the rugged people who settled here , carved out a living and endured mosquito-infested summers before air conditioning , I salute you !
This region is what some people refer to as “ The Real Florida ,” and believe me when I say this place is far removed from Disney World ! Everglades City may sound like a thriving , well-populated metropolis , but the truth is it ’ s home to just 352 residents .
During my wintertime racing treks to the Sunshine State , I always pencil in a few days to escape to the Everglades to see what I can pull out of the water . Last year I met this cool guy named “ Captain Brandon ,” who owns the local bait shop in town . When we met , he was in the process of restoring the local
marina , which was hurricane-damaged and had been sitting vacant for a few years . During the winter months of 2020 , Brandon , his wife Alana and sons Austin and Kalab would labor away in their quest of reopening the marina .
Brandon graciously allowed me to hang out there and fish from the docks , so I got a firsthand look at his family ’ s dedication , as they transformed an abandoned building into a thriving business .
My role in the project was providing comic relief , as Brandon seemed genuinely amused at my excitement for catching saltwater catfish , which many anglers scoff at . I was so dedicated in my pursuit that I became known as the “ Catfish Killer ,” a humorous name hung on me by another neat guy named Cy , who works at the marina . It was Cy , in fact , who suggested I try frozen mullet for bait , and it promptly yielded the catfish pictured !
Oh sure , there ’ s much more sophisticated fishing to be done in the Everglades than what I ’ m doing , but after a long weekend at the dragstrip , it ’ s quite relaxing to just sit on the docks at the marina , throw out a line and see what nibbles .
So , with my original race in South Carolina disrupted , followed by a successful backup plan that took me to Gulfport and Immokalee , I found myself right back at the marina with fishing rod in hand . It was a stark reminder that even when things don ’ t go as planned , life goes on , often in splendid fashion if you don ’ t mind catfish ! DI
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