Hot Wheels 

Speed rules at Nitro Nationals

5/17-5/18

How's this for a cool hobby: Every few weeks Mark Malde fits himself into a nitro-burning drag car, hits the throttle, and goes from a standstill at the start line to a screaming 100 mph in just one second -- pazam! Three seconds and six hundred feet later, Malde is just reaching his top speed of 230 mph. Blink, and the driver has already scorched a quarter-mile of earth, and is tugging on the parachute release to slow his roll. All told, just six seconds have elapsed, and Malde's adrenaline blast has turned his nervous system into a bag of noodles. "It all feels pretty cool," he says. "You slap the throttle on that thing and you know, right away, somebody's home."Malde will be among the four hundred or so other speed freaks at this weekend's Nitro Nationals Nostalgia Drags at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. As the name of the show indicates, contestant cars recall the glory days of drag racing -- only models fashioned pre-1973. Older street rods, trucks, and muscle cars will fill up the pits.

Malde's Santa Rosa-based crew is familiar with the local track and how to eke out the best possible times. Two years ago, the stretch of asphalt had just been repaved, which assisted with the sneeze-quick times for everyone; he took second place. This year, however, the driver will have to rely on his sharp reflexes at the starting line. Malde says when the starting light turns yellow -- one stop before turning green -- there's about four one-hundredths of a second before it changes color. He knows that's about the same lag time between him hitting the throttle and the car responding to take off. So, when Malde sees yellow, he knows it's time to begin his brief, but thrilling, journey. "Because if you wait until you see green," he says, "the other guy is halfway down the track."

Tickets are available at the door only, $25 adults and $5 for kids 7-12. For directions to the Infineon Raceway, call 707-938-8448. Parking is free. -- Justin Berton

7/11-7/13

Get Wet

Water sports

Hey, lonesome cowboys and cowgirls -- plan now for Mariah Wilderness Expeditions' annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Whitewater Rafting Trip, July 11-13 on the South Fork American River. For $283.50 per person, adventurous guests can enjoy two nights at Mariah's riverside campground, two days of low-medium-intensity Class III whitewater rafting on 21 miles of river, five meals (vegetarian fare available), professional guides, shuttle bus and, more importantly, the company of friends and "family" in the wide open spaces. Experience Satan's Cesspool, Troublemaker, and other rapids with Mariah, the Point Richmond company that also offers women-only trips to Baja, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, and Fiji. www.mariahwe.com or 800-462-7424. -- Kelly Vance

SUN 5/18

Put You in a Trek Bag

Now that the rains have stopped -- they have stopped, haven't they? -- it's time to take to the woods with the Berkeley Hiking Club. The easy-going outdoor club (annual dues $5) is now in the middle of its ambitious spring-summer schedule, and two different hikes are planned for Sunday. The first is a four-mile Mount Tam mini-hike, which leaves at 9 a.m. from the usual departure spot, Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way, then reconvenes at Rock Spring on Mt. Tamalpais. Also planned is a 7-8-mile hike through China Camp State Park in the Sierra foothills, departing at 8:30 a.m. To learn more, visit www.berkeleyhikingclub.pair.com -- Kelly Vance

TUE 5/20

Mini-Ha-Ha

As baseball fans know, the Oakland A's have some unfinished business left over from last season with the Minnesota Twins. It was the Twins who unceremoniously dumped the Athletics out of the 2002 AL Division Series, three games to two, sending the A's home in the first round for the third time in three years. This year the Twins are playing a bit under expectations, but any team with Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter in the outfield and Brad Radke on the mound is going to be formidable. The Minnesotas come to the Coliseum Tuesday (7:05 p.m.) for a three-game series. They're followed by the team they're trying to catch, the amazing Kansas City Royals. www.oaklandathletics.com -- Kelly Vance

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