By NICK SCHWIEN
The team shirt is immaculate, not a wrinkle to be seen.
The car is the same way.
So Jeff Koron's work is done for the day. Later, a friend will swing by his 7,500-square-foot shop in Hays, and they'll head out to the golf course.
But first, Koron needs a bit of refreshment. So he makes his way over to the refrigerator in his clean confines and pulls out a brew.
"That car runs on alcohol, just like the driver," he jokes.
Koron is only kidding, but not about his car.
It's a 1,600 horsepower, fire-breathing powerhouse that will knock the strongest of men to their knees and make them beg for mercy.
Welcome to the life of a top dragster driver in the NHRA ranks.
"That's a bad-ass car right there," Koron quips. "I built that car two years ago."
Indeed, it is, and that's evident in the smile plastered on Koron's face.
But that's about as excited as he gets, unless he's talking about any of the other cars in his shop, including a pair of Corvettes and a pair of souped-up pickups.
"I didn't get excited when I had a hole in one," he said. "I didn't. I'm just like that. I just expect it.
"A hole in one is all slop. This is probably 75 percent skill and 25 percent luck. Golfing, to get a hole in one, there's a lot of good golfers who never have had a hole in one. They've had a lot of them get within a foot. But getting it to fall in the hole, that's luck."
Call it what you will, but Koron is having a breakout season. And as he prepares for his next big event at Heartland Park in Topeka, he's still savoring his latest outing.
In July, Koron won the biggest race of his career, taking the top honors in the top dragster class of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at the 34th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver.
"Normally this car will run anywhere from 6.50 seconds to high 6.75," he said. "Depends on where you're at. It will run somewhere around 6.50 at 200 mph -- in a quarter of a mile."
Life in the fast lane is what Koron likes. So winning the national event in Denver was a perfect fit.
In his top dragster division, drivers are given qualifying runs to see how fast they can make it through the quarter-mile. Then, drivers must dial in their time, estimating how fast they will get down the track.
If a driver is too fast reaching the finish, it's called breaking out -- which leads to a sure-fire loss unless the other driver breaks out by more.
If he is too slow, the opponent in the other lane will have the advantage to the stripe.
And if you jump the gun, well, it's a red-light situation, and the opponent gets an automatic victory.
In Koron's final, he dialed in at 7.12 seconds and ran 7.121 -- under the time by only 0.001 of a second.
His opponent, Phil Unruh, dialed in at 6.78 and ran a 6.778 -- just 0.002 of a second too fast.
Koron got the win in his first national final.
"It is one bad-ass car, I'll tell you," Koron said about his Undercover chassis. "I've never seen a car this consistent in a bracket race where you have to dial. All the driver has to do is cut a light, and that car will run what you think it is going to run. It doesn't screw around."
Koron and his opponent both broke out in the semifinals, but Koron broke out by less, putting him into the finals.
"Isn't that crazy?" Koron said about the margin in the finals. "You have to dial. It's handicapped in this class. It's not like the pros where it's wide-open where it's the first one to the other end wins. This class, you can get here too quick and lose -- like my opponent did. He got there too quick by 0.002 of a second under his dial. My dial, I ran exactly on my dial, plus one-thousandth. So it was within inches."
Koron lived in Russell before moving to Hays in the 1970s. His love of fast cars began back then.
"Since I was in high school," he said about his love of cars, "you either like cars, or you don't. If you like to go fast and like cars, then you hang around the guys with cars."
Now, Koron is semi-retired from the oil business and has the time to travel long distances to make the racing events.
He started the season in Phoenix in February and will wrap up the year in a few months in Las Vegas.
"You have to have the time to go travel, because it takes a lot longer to travel than go to your local track," Koron said. "It's usually a four-day deal for a division race, sometimes longer."
Koron also competes regionally at Great Bend when it fits into his schedule. That helps him keep his skills sharp for the larger races such as the one in Denver.
Great Bend's strip hosted a division race earlier this year.
He also has a practice tree to help him hone his reaction times for actual competition.
"Instead of being a joke, you want to be a threat," Koron said.
Koron is a definite threat this year. He leads Division 5 -- determined by his region -- by 32 points ahead of Unruh, who won the division title last year. He's just one of many drivers who compete in the top dragster class -- along with Hays' Brad Basgall.
"They're there to win money because they've spent a lot of time taking off work, traveling, paying entry fee, buying fuel," Koron said. "They sure as hell aren't going to go there without trying to win. It's a serious deal."
Koron, who also has a super comp car with a similar look to his top dragster, said the sport has developed into a high-technology industry. Computers are used frequently, and his dragster has an SD card that records information captured during each run.
"No, it ain't easy," he said. "We have a lot of computer programs and electronics that help us. There's a weather station that tells us what the weather is doing the entire time. That information is downloaded to a computer program that helps you decide what the car is going to make a run at. It's actually pretty technical. A lot of electronics."
Anything to help him go faster, that's what he likes.
And that attitude has helped him gain a new friend after his exploits in Denver -- Wally.
That's the name given to the large trophy winners receive from national events. It's named after NHRA founder Wally Parks and shows a man standing with his hand on a drag tire. It weighs roughly 12 pounds and is 18 inches tall.
It's the trophy every drag racer wants to earn at least once in his life.
Koron got his in Denver in July, and he has a place in his office to display the trophy proudly.
Wally sits quietly, but speaks volumes in its beautiful brass and walnut state.
With everything cleaned up in the shop, maintenance on the car done and his friend's arrival, it's time to turn the attention from drag racing to something a bit slower -- golf.
It's time to turn some of that skill on the track into luck on the course.
Just a little more practice on the links for Koron, and you know what they say about practice.
Well, at least what Koron says, perhaps only somewhat jokingly.
"Practice does make perfect," he said. "So all you kids, quit school and practice your ... driving."