July 6, 2022 948 PM
PRESIDIO — Last Saturday night, over 400 people piled into the lot around the Presidio International Dragstrip for the highly-anticipated Fourth of July weekend races. Gates opened at 3 p.m., and locals and out-of-towners alike set up tailgates and tents for a night of camaraderie and family fun.
Around 6 p.m., the sky went dark and a strong wind came from the north, taking pop-up-shelters and garbage bags with it. “Mother nature was being a hater,” said Robert Romero, affectionately known as “Coach.” Romero organizes the races alongside Alex Jimenez — their families pitch in plenty of support as well. The team hoped to use the event to debut improvements to the track that have been in the works for months with help from Big Bend Materials in Alpine.
The spectators were undeterred. Beers were cracked, meat was smoked, and old friends were reunited left and right. People danced under the lights to a soundtrack deejayed by the mayor. Around 11 p.m., the organizers decided to call the races, rescheduling them for the following morning. Fans spread the word on social media. “At that point, I was sweating bullets,” Romero said.
To Romero’s and Jimenez’s surprise, the next morning about half their spectators and most of their contestants returned to race. Only a handful of disgruntled customers from the night before asked for their money back. A team from Carlsbad, New Mexico, broke the track’s speed record, and two locals — Gabriel Brito and Dafny Moreno — rounded out the top three.
Brito, who came in second, traveled from his job as a welder in Odessa to race a ‘91 Malibu that he and his friends had souped up for the event. “There’s so much you need to do,” Brito explained of the mechanical preparation that goes into the event. Beyond regular maintenance, the wear-and-tear that drag racing entails requires skill and creativity to manage. “If something gives out you just replace it and keep on going with it,” he said.
Though Brito works a job hours from Presidio, he tries to make it back a few times a month. “It’s home, it’s where I’m from,” he said. Beyond family obligations, the community that has sprung up around the races keeps him coming back for more. “Every race is great. If you break down or need a part or something, everybody is willing to help each other.”
The refinished track — made from concrete to help the vehicles get a better grip at high speeds — was a highlight this year. “I give it to the people that worked on the track,” Brito said. “It’s a lot better than what it used to be. Coach Romero and Alex Jimenez did a great job.”
Third place winner Dafny Moreno’s car suffered a breakdown during the semifinals, but her strong performance up to that point still earned her a top slot. As a rising senior at Presidio High, she proved that the city’s young talent can still hold their own against the pros.
Moreno became hooked on drag racing as a child, after watching her father race in Ojinaga. When the races in Presidio started up in 2019, she and her dad were quick to support the event as spectators. One day, sitting trackside, she made a joke that would change her life. “When I first said I wanted to race, it was sarcasm just to see what my dad would say. He actually said yes,” Moreno remembered.
The father-daughter team went to work on a number of vehicles, including a truck they’re still working on and the car Moreno rode to victory last weekend. “In my opinion, my dad is the best mechanic because he has patience and tries to teach me,” she said. “I’m obviously still learning, but it’s really fun to work on it together.”
As a young woman, Moreno stands out among Presidio’s drag racing competitors, but neither her age nor her gender are a liability. “I don’t think anybody has said anything because I’m a girl,” she said. “Quite the opposite, actually. I feel like a lot of the guys there support me because of it and because I’ve taken an interest in something that my dad used to do.”
Despite all the setbacks, Romero and Jimenez consider the weekend’s races a success. They’re planning to host another event later this summer and to expand programming for local kids. While the weekend’s events drew a crowd from all over the region, Romero stressed that it’s really all about Presidio pride. “It’s kind of like a high school reunion for some of these older cats who come down,” he explained. “It’s a good feeling. We’ve got to take care of our people, man.”