Opening Statements

Drag racing attorneys put the pedal to the metal

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One typically associates drag racing with rebels without a cause in their teens and 20s—not law partners in later middle age. But that’s when lawyers Jeffrey Pagano and Keith Harrison, partners at Crowell & Moring, rediscovered their youthful passion.

“Some lawyers golf. I go into Keith’s garage and he’s got two cars there—an AMX and a ‘55 Chevy,” Pagano says.

Harrison has raced for the past five years in Hot Rod magazine’s Drag Week, and last September invited Pagano along for the ride in his restored 1955 Chevy. This year, Pagano will race his own sweet ride, a 1970 El Camino.

Drag Week provides a dual and sometimes contradictory challenge for racers: Cars need to be built both for speed on the track and endurance on the open road, since they are not towed from track to track.

“You’re racing at a different track every day,” Harrison says. “And then you’re driving a race car on the street on predetermined routes, from one track to the next. It is really a terrific test of both man and machine.”

“They make you go the same route, so every car is equally abused. You’re all going over the same bad railroad tracks,” Pagano says. Since dragsters aren’t exactly built for comfort, the drivers also absorb a lot of abuse along the way. “That 400 miles at night is brutal, after spending a day at the track,” he adds.

The object of the event is to test your car skills, enjoy the camaraderie of fellow racers from all walks of life—and make it to the finish line. “Usually as many as half of the cars that start don’t finish,” Harrison says. “Many break down on the track, but many break down on the back roads.” Harrison has completed the race four out of the five times he’s entered—the one exception being when his motor blew up somewhere outside of Huntsville, Ala.

Pagano and Harrison both see parallels between drag racing and law practice. “You’re constantly looking for the unexpected, trying to anticipate what’s going to go wrong,” Pagano says. “You believe in what you created, but you don’t know what the other side is going to throw at you.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Counselors, Start Your Engines: Two drag racing attorneys from Crowell & Moring put the pedal to the metal.”

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