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To the victor go the spoils! Here, standing next to the self-proclaimed “Drill Sergeant of Drag Racing” himself, I proudly model the T-shirt awarded to all graduates of Roy Hill’s Drag Racing School.

Words by Ian Tocher
Photos by Ian Tocher and Jan Roper

’m a racecar driver now. Well, not really. In fact, I’m a long, long way from it, but I have at least driven a real racecar, thanks to a recent one-day stint at Roy Hill’s Drag Racing School.

The plan was for me to have fun, of course, but more importantly to gain a little insight into what the men and women I so often photograph and write about have to go through with each pass down the strip. As a non-participant I’ve always been able to listen, observe, and learn about the sport, but never to truly empathize with what actually goes on in the cockpit. My all-too-brief time behind the wheel of one of Hill’s Super Comp dragsters gave me at least a hint of what it’s all about.

The day starts early for racers. That’s my first lesson after spending the night at Hill’s large, tastefully decorated home near High Point, NC, deep in the heart of stock car country. My host and soon-to-be driving instructor rousted me from sweet slumber about 6 a.m. for departure to the track.

Hill, 60, shares living quarters with longtime companion Jan (“I don’t believe in marriage,” the twice-divorced Hill says), Izzy, a 21-year-old cat that doesn’t look a day over 12, and a 90-something-pound Rottweiler named Sage that couldn’t be gentler if she tried. His office features photos and mementos from 40-plus years in professional drag racing that’s included success in both NHRA and IHRA Pro Stock as a driver and team owner, the 1995 IHRA Pro Stock championship as team owner with Mike Bell doing the driving, and current ownership of the supercharged Mustang in which Bell set a new IHRA Pro Mod E.T. record of 6.046 seconds this fall at Rockingham, NC.

Our first stop is Hill’s race shop just a few curvy miles from his house, where the Pro Mod car lies in a state of disassembly after a long, hard season, but two dragsters and a couple of Pro Stock Thunderbird school cars are already loaded and ready for the short trip to the eighth-mile Piedmont Dragway.

Before heading to the track, Hill treated us to breakfast at a colorful local dining establishment. Actually, the food was quite good.

We also meet a couple of my classmates there, Nick White, who along with friend Tim Murphy, has towed his 429-equipped 1970 Mustang all the way down from Indianapolis to go through a three-day set-up and driving session with Hill, and Tom Hemmingson, who signed up to drive the automatic Pro Stocker. Tim Dooley, who plans to go IHRA Pro Stock racing next year, will meet us at the track.

The class size is small this day because Hill is just getting back into teaching after being forced to take the last few months off due to a serious health scare. He’s feeling fine now, though, and several times throughout the day mentions that returning to instructing is the best medicine for him. “I’m very fortunate,” he says. “This school will keep me in drag racing for the rest of my life. I love it. It’s what’s keeping me alive.”

Our school day starts about 9 a.m. with a “classroom” session in the Piedmont tower, where Hill begins by going over safety issues, then grills the group on the physical attributes of a typical dragstrip. Surprisingly—or not, if you ask Hill—no one, including yours truly, gets it right. “You’ve got to learn every inch of that track,” he stresses. “You can’t win if you don’t know what you’re working with.”


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