Of late, I think of a Terrifying Toronado … and its ramifications

Like just a few of you, I attended the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, but unlike the sparse and brave huddled in the aluminum I didn’t get soaked. Rain played havoc with the racers and the profits, and for the first time since 1978 the Winternationals was completed on a Tuesday. The older event was completed in two consecutive weekends plus a Monday and finally a Tuesday, while this year’s was an NHRA “To Hell with Everything Just Get the Son-Of-A-Bitch in the Cage” ordeal.

This year was my 41st Winternationals and my second where a Tuesday was involved. Tuesday is a weird day.  When you go to a race on that day, you are experiencing drag racing on the least drag raced day on the calendar. Check it out. Plenty of races have been completed on Monday due to weather, and Wednesday nights in the Midwest as at tracks like U.S. 30 in Gary, Indiana. Midweek you could see 32 Funny Cars if you played your cards right. And there have been scads of national events from NHRA, IHRA, and AHRA that have begun on Thursdays and run through Sunday.  But Tuesday?  Not a chance Lance.

In many ways, Tuesday’s final eliminations were like room service. Almost nobody around me, I could stretch out and talk to myself in the thinly populated stands and I kind of liked it. In my uninebriated state, I could catch the races in all their glory, the sight, sound and fury, and past visions altered after being locked in a Budweiser Brewery or a Merck Pharmaceutical warehouse overnight. Still, save for Pro Stock, which was sensational, I was only mildly titillated.

The nitro classes still remain emasculated for me. Yep, the first two or three jolts of uplifting noise were okay. But it soon became numbing faceless repetition in a 1,000-foot arena. The cars all looked somewhat the same and corporate as hell. Almost nothing you could warm up to. They ran uniformly well. Close competition, legacy-bucking and uninteresting 1,0000-foot times. The nitro cars looked like leopards on leashes. All the personality of a chicken salad sandwich.

As I and the many veteran fans could tell you, it wasn’t always that way. Take the Funny Car class for example.  In its heyday, their eliminator was the wildest show on earth save for Fuel Altered, which almost never ran an as “eliminator” in days past. Variety was a hallmark of the class. And action? It was not uncommon at all for the vintage “floppers” to wheelstand at the start, get sideways, explode blowers, vault the guard rail occasionally and blow up into a million pieces on the top end. They just had this attitude. Now a day they’re on pills.

(DRO file photo)

I was sitting on the top end this past February at about the 800-foot mark just staring out at nothing in particular when onto my visual screen came the image of one of the sport’s genuine berserkers, “the Terrifying Toronado” owned and driven by former Top Fuel racer (at the time) John Smyser.

I remember thinking that while that bomb was a failure it embodied what I dug about early nitro drag racing.