Boom Buggies

Welcome to the world of decibel drag racing, where trophies go not to the fast, but to the loud

"Yeah!" Jeff calls out, obviously pleased. "That's 132.2, and car number two is the winner." Jeff has been doing car audio since he was 15, and so have a lot of his friends. "I started a part-time car-audio business while I was in college," he explains turning away from the console while the next two cars prepare to face off.

Three guys with yellow Buddy Holly hairstyles, khaki shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and this year's version of Seventies puka-shell necklaces stand off to one side. The middle one, Nick, is shaking his head. "It's fairly loud. I don't know." This is his first competition. He heard about it on the radio and came to check it out. "It's kinda cool but I don't know if I'd do it myself unless I was really rich. I mean, I have a stereo in my car and it was expensive--too expensive--but nothing like this."

A little ways away from the commotion, Curtis Sorenson, who owns one of the Extreme cars, is smiling sweetly, surrounded by friends who traveled here with him from Austin, Minnesota, five young women who are sunburned brick red. Two of them are competitors in the Street class. They appear to be the only females here, with the exception of Jeff's wife, and two others who are parked, pregnant, on a small patch of shady grass between the parking lot and the street.

Extreme sound: Curtis Sorenson's rolling boom box
Michael Hoium
Extreme sound: Curtis Sorenson's rolling boom box

It's obvious that Curtis's heavily modified car, which he towed in on a trailer, isn't the only attraction. Tall with short blond hair, blue eyes, and a few hairs struggling to form a goatee on his sun-scorched chin, Curtis looks directly, yet shyly, into each girl's eyes and is always running to help a friend who needs his windows pressed. Right now he's working at A&W and spending a good portion of his earnings going to competitions. "I try to find one every weekend. I've gone as far as Omaha, Kansas City, South Dakota," he says. "I've been to the Cities many times. St. Cloud, Richfield, all over. I've gotten first place in all six competitions I've been to this year except one, where I got second."

Curtis is 17 and he's been doing this for two years. This is the first year he has entered his white late-Eighties model Grand Am in a competition. "I just hung around all my friends who did it. I used to drive this car when it had seats in it. It was my first car and I just started spending more and more money and then I got sponsored by Sweet Sounds here in Mankato, so I get a lot of stuff now at dealer cost."

Back at the tent a screaming contest is in progress. "To keep people interested all day," Jeff explains. The first contestant is a big guy wearing sneakers with no socks. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, jamming his toes into the sand bag that keeps people a certain distance away from the mic. "ROOOAAAA," he yells rocking back on his heels. A guy scream. "AAROOOOO." Everyone gets four tries. Jeff shouts out the decibel level of each one. The next screamer's nickname is Beevis. "Holler, Beevis, holler," a group of sunburned guys yell. The arms have been cut from Beevis's T-shirt, but the neckline is still intact and he struggles to get the sweaty band away from his throat. "AAAH!" "Hey, his face is getting really red," a concerned-looking girl says.

Curtis takes a turn. "That guy is loud," Jeff tells the crowd, announcing a decibel level of 124.9. Another scream and Curtis ties for first place with a blond-haired guy in hiking boots that are spray-painted silver.

Then it's time for the scream-off. Silver boots guy screams and gets a 125.0, followed by a 125.8. "That's a new record and Curtis has got some work to do," Jeff says.

But then Curtis wins easily with 133.

"I want a retry," silver boots says.

"Fuck no," says Curtis.

Heat waves are shimmering above the pavement, and a slender, dark-haired girl named Liz is sitting just beyond the tent with her hands wrapped around her knees. "I try and understand it when my boyfriend talks to me about it, but I just don't get it," she sighs, leaning back. "I can understand how they can be, like, into it. I mean I would, too, if I had a nice car to put it in, but I just don't really understand equipment and stuff."

Jon, her boyfriend, is stomping around in a circle in front of her. "I'm just having a piss-poor day today. My second run I did 133.6. My third with two people holding my windows I got a better score." Curtis--no surprise--won the big prize of the day, $200.

"Yeah, but you were also playing a little bit different music then," 19-year-old Liz says, trying to comfort Jon.

Would she come to one of these events again? "Um, well, yeah, if I'm dating him next year I would. I mean, I wouldn't just show up and sit here all day if it wasn't for him."

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