Volume IX, Issue 9, Page 152

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The Good Old Days Of Drag Racing Return

When we last spoke here, fellow dragaholics, I was on a rant about why I was disappointed in the greatest event in drag racing, the U.S. Nationals. I talked about how it no longer was a race that I was absolutely compelled to attend, as it once was. I lamented the lack of variety, uniqueness, and competition that race once had. In short, I sounded like some old geezer sitting on his front porch lamenting the passing of 35-cent-a-gallon gasoline and Detroit cars with 427-inch engines under the hood.

Well, I’ve been thinking about what I wrote and why I feel that way and I’ve come to the conclusion that the big reason for my angst is that unlike many of today’s 18-35 age group fans, I’ve seen and raced in a very different NHRA drag racing than what they have. The drag racing I grew up with was, in my opinion, more about actual drag racing, winning and run what ya brung racing, and less about public relations and stroking sponsors, especially in the quickest, fastest and most prestigious classes.

For fans the entertainment was a byproduct of watching who had the quickest and fastest car on any given day. I think a big part of the appeal drag racing had was the variety. Top Fuel cars came in all forms, blown or injected, one or two engines, a wide variety of Detroit engine brands, and some racers even used aircraft engines. The fuel burned depended upon how brave you were and the size of your wallet. Although nitro was the preferred fuel, if you were brave enough or stupid enough or desperate enough you could add a percentage of hydrazine to the tank and no one said a word.

Drag racing then was much different than the “cookie cutter” drag racing we have today. It was drag racing, baby, and I miss it terribly. I had been resigned to the idea I would never again see the kind of drag racing I grew up watching again until I attended the fourth annual ADRL Dragstock race at Rockingham Dragway.

At that event they fired up the Way-back Machine and more than 35,000 fans and some 120 racers demonstrated that there is still a place in today’s world for drag racing in its purest and rawest form.

At Dragstock the premiere attraction and class was the ADRL’s version of what drag racing fans refer to generically as Pro Mods. Seeing the pits full of those cars reminded me of the days when the U.S. Nationals used to bring in nearly that many nitro-burning Top Fuel and Funny Cars.

Dragstock had the essence of what the sport was when Wally Parks invented organized drag racing. It was about (basically) no rules classes and racing solely to determine who had the quickest and fastest hot rod -- something that at least for me is totally lacking and foreign in today’s NHRA/IHRA drag racing events.

A quick example of that is the statement by privateer and former U.S. Nationals winner Jim Head, who said early this year that he was going to concentrate more on qualifying than winning for the first 16 events of the season. My heart sank when I heard that.

Oh well, back to the future (I hope). There were three classes of fast doorslammers at Dragstock. In the Pro Extreme class any engine size, tire size, fuel (including nitromethane), or induction system was allowed. There are basically no restrictions of any kind other than very strict safety rules regarding the chassis and driver safety equipment. Not one car had to drive over a scale or stop for a fuel check! Sort of like what NHRA was before the failed nitro ban of the mid-fifties.

Then there was the Pro Nitrous class where the cars are limited to nitrous oxide-injection or turbocharging and then there was the Outlaw ten-wide class where the only rules, other than safety and working headlights and tail lights was a rear tire width limited to approximately 10.5 inches. Other than those minimal rules ADRL racers can build and race whatever their imagination, time and wallets will allow.

As a result Dragstock fans were treated to a cornucopia of cars with varying body styles, engines, and fuels, and every one of them raced heads-up. Spectators saw engine combinations that ranged from blown nitro-burning Hemis to blown alky and nitrous-injected big blocks to 800-inch nitrous/gasoline burning Fords and Chevys to turbocharged straight-six-powered Hondas!

Perhaps the best part of the whole race was that as a spectator you knew that in every qualifying session you might see a new national record and those at the race were rewarded by seeing the first driver of a door car, Jason Scruggs, exceed 200 mph in the eighth-mile.

For me this race delivered everything attracted me to professional drag racing. There were no rules for your protection that stifled racers ingenuity, performance, or cunning. It was a truly historic race in  front of a capacity crowd of drag racing fans -- a race with the kind of drama and performances that can’t be planned or fabricated. It was truly run what ya brung racing and hope ya brought enough. Winning, or at least going rounds at this race, was all important and literally meant the difference between competing for the ADRL World Championship at the World Finals and not.

As a race fan or racer, if you weren’t at this race you probably wish you had been. Track owner Steve Earwood told me that his phones rang for two days after the event with people wanting to know what happened; something he says happens for none of his other events. And next year I hear that for Dragstock V ADRL will double the purse and award the racers double the points.

The sad fact is that many drag racers and drag racing fans simply aren’t old enough to have attended a drag race to see what it was like before the sport morphed into an event where entertainment seemingly trumps racing. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m still hooked on Top Fuel and Fuel Funny Cars and I’ll go to see them every chance I get. And sometimes, like the final round of Top Fuel at Pomona last year, the drama and racing is superb, but it just doesn’t happen often enough!  

The ADRL currently gives away free tickets and the next race is going to be at one of drag racing’s premier speed palaces, the all-concrete Texas Motorplex. That will be the race that decides the World Championship for all ADRL classes.

So, here is my free advice. If you really want to see and experience what drag racing and races were when Garlits, Karamesines, Prudhomme, Snow, the Chrismans, Dick Landy and Dyno Don were kings of a sport, before drag racing was sanitized for our protection and altered to be more like a concert series than a drag race, before the cars started going too fast for quarter-mile tracks, take yourself and your kids to an eighth-mile ADRL race so that they can know what drag racing used to be like, and in my biased, old geezer opinion, should be.

If this sounds like a plug for ADRL racing, it is and I do so with no apology. I want drag racing fans who only see NHRA or IHRA racing in person or on the tube to see what I’ve seen so that when I complain about today’s drag racing or yearn for the “good old days” they’ll understand why.