The past nine months or so have been among the most memorable in the life of 26-year-old Nathan Lilley.
Last July, the Camden resident started driving a new car that carried him to his first Top Eliminator track title at Northeast Dragway.
In September, Lilley survived an alcohol fire that ignited while he was working on a different car. It caused second-degree burns to his face, ear, neck, back and hands, but could have been much worse.
A couple of weeks ago, wife, Ashley, presented Lilley with their first children — twin girls Bristol and Kyndal.
“Really, I am on top of the world with the way everything is going,” he said.
So when Northeast Dragway opens its season Saturday with the first of 12 points races, Lilley will be a different guy than he was a year ago: More confident because of the title, but more cautious because of his new family.
“It’s definitely going to be a different outlook this time,” Lilley said. “It used to be that I would get to the track as early as I could and stay as late as I could. But this year it is going to be show up, race and pack up and go home when I am done.
“Having a family makes you think more about the safety aspect of it, too. I ordered new pieces for my fire suit and new belts for the car, just trying to stay on top of everything so that if something does happen, I will make it through OK.”
Lilley said his wife has no problem with him continuing to race.
“She loves racing and it’s always something we have done as a family,” he said. “Now our family is just bigger.
“I’m hoping in a month or so the girls will be going out there with me. We have a motorhome. That will help us to keep doing it together.”
One thing that will not change is that Lilley’s car — a 2002 Worthy Dragster owned by Danny and Debbie Bennett of Hampton, Va. that features a 582-cubic-inch, all-aluminum motor capable of cranking out more than 900 horsepower — will make him tough to beat.
The Bennetts, who have known Lilley from the time they asked him to drive a car for them in an Iron Man race at Northeast Dragway in 2009, offered Lilley the use of the dragster when he was experiencing continuing mechanical problems.
“I was in fifth place in the points when I started driving it and it took me all the way to the championship in less than a half season,” said Lilley, who nipped Donny Edwards, 290-280, in the tightest race of any of the track’s eight divisions. “I really have to thank Danny and Debbie. That’s the best car I have ever been in.
“All the cars I had driven before were put together with whatever I could find, used parts and whatever, but this car has pretty much the best of everything in it.
“There were no corners cut when it was built. It just gives you a better outcome.”
Northeast Dragway owner Curtis Trueblood is hoping for a better outcome in terms of weather this season.
“Last year was a whole lot of problems with all the rain,” he said. “We had to reschedule eight races and never did get some of them in.”
A wet spring has hindered track preparations, but Trueblood said all systems are go for Saturday’s opener.
This year’s schedule includes three additional bike races and the first Speed Oasis Footbraking Nationals on May 4.
“We’ve got a $5,000 purse for that and there will be some good racing,” Trueblood said.