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Feb. 28, 2021

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Vancouver teen Cooper Chun one of region’s top amateur drag racers

Skyview High student has three victories in 2020 at Portland International Raceway

By , Columbian staff writer
8 Photos
Cooper Chun, 16, of Vancouver pauses for a photo in his 1999 Mullis Rear Engine Dragster at Portland International Raceway on Wednesday evening, August 12, 2020.
Cooper Chun, 16, of Vancouver pauses for a photo in his 1999 Mullis Rear Engine Dragster at Portland International Raceway on Wednesday evening, August 12, 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

One quarter mile at a time, Vancouver’s Cooper Chun just might be Clark County’s fastest teenager.

But freeway driving doesn’t have the same thrill as, say, hitting a top speed of 164 mph in 8.02 seconds on quarter-mile dragstrips around the Pacific Northwest.

“I have to set it to cruise,” the incoming Skyview High junior said of traditional daily driving. “I’ll get up to the speed limit, and I hit cruise.”

But cruise isn’t in Chun’s vocabulary while racing. At age 16, the teen is one of the region’s top junior drivers who in March became an amateur bracket racer.

The people are what make drag racing fun, said Chun, a racer since age 8, but the adrenaline and no-fear factor of competitive amateur racing is unlike any other he’s experienced.

“Basically, it’s a different feeling,” he said. “I can’t feel that anywhere else when I’m out there.”

A bracket race is a drag-race contest in which two racers are handicapped based on their own anticipated elapsed time. Rules place a premium on car and driver consistency and performance rather than raw speed. While top speed is recorded, it doesn’t determine the race winner.

Chun races two cars. His rear-engine dragster is a 496 cubic-inch big-block Chevy engine with 750 horsepower and his 1979 El Camino features a 350 small-block Chevy with 300 horsepower.

The teen regularly competes in local and regional meets on National Hot Rod Association (NHRA)-sponsored tracks. He calls Portland International Raceway home, and so far in 2020, he’s been in the winner’s circle three times.

Racing is a full-fledged family affair for the Chuns, said Traci Chun, Cooper’s mother.

“It’s kind of in his DNA,” she said of her oldest son.

Cooper Chun is a third-generation racer, following the path set by his late paternal grandfather, David, and father, also named David, who also is Cooper’s coach. Traci Chun also has a racing background, and so does Cooper’s aunt and cousins.

Their impact and influence is never far from Chun.

“It’s kind of cool to have our whole family at the race track,” he said.

Chun wouldn’t be where he is without making a name on the Junior Circuit. Twice, he won junior dragster driver of the year for NHRA Division 6, a region that covers much of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, and won best racer in three different classes — all before turning 16.

The NHRA opened drag racing and other model cars to youth drivers in 1992 as a way to develop interest and live mechanical skills at slower speeds. Half-scale dragsters produce speeds up to 85 mph on one-eighth-mile tracks, and young drivers advance in class and higher speeds as they age. More recently, the NHRA developed its junior street program, a stepping-stone for teens to race full-body street vehicles with an adult as their co-driver.

Now 16, Chun has drag-raced half his life. He routinely races adults as an amateur bracket racer, and more often than not, faces drivers twice and three times his age.

Chun is one step from competing in NHRA’s four professional classes, but he said he plans to stick to bracket racing in adulthood. He wants to be an engineer, which suits his love for mechanics and mathematics. And yes, a lot of math goes into race day from car performance to weather and track conditions, he confirmed.

Just anything but hitting cruise.

“I’ve met so many friends through drag racing,” Chun said. “Whether I win or lose, it’s just fun to be out there.”