Drag racer Henry Giselle Roberson takes after his father. He likes to drive fast cars in a straight line for a quarter-mile alongside other racers doing the same.
The elder Roberson, also Henry, and still competing at age 75, began on the streets of San Francisco. The younger Roberson, 31, has been drag racer for more than half of his life. He competes on tracks from Arizona to Oregon.
Roberson the younger, who lives in North Highlands, will compete this season through November. About a month afterward, the 2018 season will begin January 1 at Sacramento Raceway.
He competes in bracket racing, the format determined by the predicted elapsed times of two cars competing side-by-side. Consistency, repetition and luck win over outright speed.
How did you get involved in the sport?
My dad is the drag racer in the family. He’s not very competitive anymore. But when I win, he wins. He just has fun going out and banging through the gears. He’s so proud. He likes to show off my trophies and tries to get me new sponsors.
What kind of car do you drive and how fast does it go?
I run a 1984 Ford Mustang GT. My dad and I are self-proclaimed “Pick-N-Pull” racers. We are budget racers. It’s a stock bottom 302, just like a normal 5.2 [liter engine] you’d see on the streets. It has run a best time of 11.3 seconds at 117 miles per hour for a quarter-mile.
Are there are a lot of people in the area who drag race?
It’s a men’s and women’s sport. Women are actually really good. It must be something in their chemistry. It’s like they don’t get nervous or something. They are pretty cutthroat. We have a good mixture of people, as far as gender and race as well. At Sacramento Raceway, we’ll have about 200 cars show up on a normal Saturday.
I’ve never heard Giselle as a man’s name. What’s the story behind it?
My mom wanted to name me Giselle. But I guess they thought it sounded better as Henry Giselle, rather than Giselle Henry, so that’s how it ended up. I am half Mexican and half African-American.
In Mexican culture, your family calls you by your middle name. My family calls me Giselle. I don’t really associate with Henry except for at the track and people who don’t really know me. Growing up, I never realized it was a girls’ name until the kids in school started making fun of me.
You’ve been on local television stations speaking about the potential closing of Sacramento Raceway. Can you share some thoughts?
I’ve been on three separate newscasts to make the public aware of just what’s going on. The county is basically forcing the family out of the business. They don’t want the racetrack there; they want to build houses. They want to put a Starbucks and Wal-Mart on my racetrack. It’s sad, man. The kids aren’t going to have anywhere to race. They’ll be taking it back to the streets, and people are going to get hurt.
When you compete, it’s for 11 or 12 seconds. What’s it like during a race?
It’s not terribly strenuous on your body. It’s not that you just go in a straight line that’s what a lot of people think. There’s a lot that goes into it. We always have the risk of crashing.
My biggest concern is that my opponent, who might be much faster, comes over to my side and hits me. It would be completely out of my hands. You have to be ready in case some type of injury might occur.
Is this your full-time gig or do you do something else for a living?
Most people do it on the side as a hobby. We’re all competitors and we take it very seriously. We’ll help each other in the pits. But when we line up to compete, we’re trying to knock each other’s heads off. I look at this as my job.
I have my sponsors, Rocklin Automotive and Boddie Racing. Jermaine Boddie Jr. grew up with my dad. He’s on a television show called Street Outlaws. He backs me up and helps me out a lot.
Do you have any idea how many races you’ve won?
I’ve probably won 150 to 250 races. I only have one championship. But I have finished top 5 in every single season I raced. I’ve stayed consistent, although I have run into some bad luck every year. Stuff happens. Something breaks. I’ve finished second by one point. I have the one championship, which was an amazing year in 2009.
How do you feel at the end of a race when you win?
Oh, man, it’s the greatest high in the world, dude. It’s a thrill that’s indescribable. It’s not just the 11 seconds. It’s the taste of the thrill of victory. If you’ve raced the entire day, knocking off six or seven people in the brackets, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment. You get to hold the trophy, get the winner’s check and the girls are kissing you. It’s a wonderful feeling.
(Originally published Nov. 2 in the Sacramento News & Review.)