Paul Cochi and his wife of 21 years, Lori, have found a way to enjoy Friday nights during the summer. Paul drag races at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway while his better half enjoys staying home and having the house to herself. Paul has been competing at Lancaster for decades and has no plans of hanging up his helmet anytime soon.
"I think Lori enjoys the drag racing because I go race and she gets the house to herself on Friday nights," Cochi said in humorous fashion. "Call it a win-win for the Cochi family until winter comes."
Cochi, 59 of Amherst, currently races in the International Hot Rod Association's (IHRA) Top ET class at Lancaster and enjoys the sport as much as anyone who has ever suited up and slipped behind the wheel of a drag racing machine. He drives a 1971 Dodge Demon and is entered in Lancaster's Top ET points as a teammate with Jeff Sobczynski.
Cochi has also achieved much success in the sport, having authored an Empire Dragway Super Pro championship in 1990, a Lancaster Pro class championship 1992 and the Summit Super Series title at Lancaster in 2013. Cochi recalls when it all began so many years ago; he has owned his Dodge Demon since 1977.
"A friend of mine and neighbor where I grew up, Dennis Bringhurst from Denny's Driveshafts, was racing back then and he ran over at the Lancaster and Niagara drag strips," Cochi said. "He got me into drag racing. The first time I ever went to Lancaster was probably early 1980s, probably 1981 or '82 I would say. I started in Heavy ET, which was what it was called back then. I was in my early 20s, about 23 or 24, when I started driving. Since then I've won probably over 100 races in my career."
Cochi and his Dodge, which is the only car Cochi has every raced, has not missed very many competitions at Lancaster. Also, since drag racers usually are spared the number of accidents that their stock car racing brethren encounter, a drag racer can generally keep utilizing the same car in straight line style racing year after year. Both Cochi and his car have stood the test of time.
"To tell you the truth I don't recall missing any seasons at Lancaster at all," Cochi said. "Ironically I'm going to miss my only race night of this season at Lancaster this Friday so that I can take my wife out for her birthday. Jeff is going to run for the points for us this Friday and I will be running for the points all the other weeks of this season."
Over the years, Cochi has also enjoyed special-event racing at Leicester's Empire Dragway.
"I've competed a lot over the years at Empire and I've won a lot of $1,000-to-win races there over the years," Cochi said. "I'm too old to race regularly at both Lancaster and Empire now so one weekly track is enough but I enjoy going to Empire for special shows."
The Cochi's have two children, Megan, 18, and Brandon, 16. Brandon may follow in his father's drag racing footsteps.
"I'm telling you, out of the blue he wanted to start going to the drag races with me last year when he never wanted to before," Paul said. "He liked going there a little but now it's almost every week. He's helping me now and it's a possibility he may compete one day."
Cochi also relies on crew member Doug Baron for much-needed help.
What motivates an individual to work so hard in the shop for the opportunity to sail down Lancaster's one-eighth mile drag strip for the few seconds it takes to get to the finish line? As one might suspect, Cochi has his answer.
"It sounds simple but I just enjoy the sport - I really do," Cochi said. "Each year I can't wait for April to come around so that we can begin another drag racing season again. Pretty much the only thing that stops me is winter.
"I think my greatest strengths as a driver has always been that I make sure my car is consistent and runs the numbers every run when it goes down the track. Obviously good reaction times to the starting light is very important and I think I generally get good reaction times.
"My drag racing career is not going to end anytime soon."
That's good news for Cochi's local drag racing fans as well as for Lori, who will still be able to enjoy many more Friday evenings of well-deserved solitude.
The Outlaws are coming
The popular World of Outlaws Late Model Series will make its closest visit to the Buffalo area when the national traveling series competes June 20 at the McKean County Raceway in East Smethport, Pa. The Outlaws will compete in the $10,000-to-win Hamlin Lake 50. The Outlaws last visited McKean County in 2011.
"This is huge for the Outlaws to return," said MCR promoter Chris Zuver. "Ever since we announced that the Outlaws were coming back last December the buzz around this event has been huge. The last time the Outlaws visited the track in 2011 we had our largest crowd in track history."
Outlaw stars Chub Frank, Rick Eckert and Shane Clanton are among the traveling contingent that will challenge top regional drivers including Dave Hess Jr., Greg Oakes, Damian Bidwell, Dutch Davies, Chris Hackett and Max and Rob Blair.
Joining the Outlaws on MCR's race card will be the RUSH Late Models and Pure Stocks.