n the surface, heads-up drag racing is about the simplest motorsport on the planet. You get the signal to go, race side-by-side to a pre-determined point, and whoever gets there first is declared the winner. There are no pit strategies, no interpretations of out-of-bound rules, no caution laps, and no mileage races. It’s a contest of speed, pure and simple.

Well, we all know there’s a little more to it than that, but the original premise never changes. Which begs the question, how many times do you need to watch that? Beyond the noise and speed, what’s the recurring attraction? I mean, what’s the big deal with drag racing?

I have to admit there’ve been times when I’ve questioned my own devotion—usually about midnight after it’s been raining all day, the track’s just been oiled for the sixth time that weekend, and I’m facing a four-hour drive to get home before going to my “real” job in the morning. Gotta’ admit, racing doesn’t seem like such a great pastime at such moments. And yet, I stay until the bitter end, take my final-round photos, do my victory-lane interviews, and know I’ll be back for the next event. Why? Because I genuinely love the sport. Hardcore, as the Burkster likes to say.

But again, there’s more to it than that. When I think about why I enjoy drag racing, to a large degree it does stem from the purity and simplicity of a head-to-head speed contest. I like the finality of eliminations because it makes each and every round just as important as the next. (Try saying that about lap 102 in any NASCAR race.) There is just no opportunity to dog it in a drag race.

It’s also because each event puts on display the efforts of its participants: their theories and inventions; work back at the shop; testing during off weekends; and most of all, their dreams, passion, and talents. And even with the most basic premise, each drag race has the potential to be unique. How else to explain so many memorable moments, passes that you still remember where you were sitting, or even what the scoreboards displayed when the chutes came out?

Drag racing also offers up technological marvels on a routine basis. How about going from a standing start to more than 330 mph in less than 4.5 seconds? Sure, there’s always an appreciative buzz when we see something like that, but when you step back and think about it—really think about it—it’s quite incredible. And not even because of the massive power of a nitro engine; I expect those motors to run strong. But how does that rear tire not just break loose every time that power is applied? Yes, I know it can be explained mathematically, but so can the angles of Dick LaHaie’s hair and I think they’re pretty awe inspiring, too.

It’s not all about the visceral and physical aspects of drag racing, though. Joe Scheil, a long-time hot rodder from California, eloquently expressed a philosophical bent on the sport’s appeal. “If you put a car on a drag strip, whether it’s for four seconds or 15 seconds, you’re risking everything,” he said. “When that car finishes and comes off clean and hasn’t been wrecked, even though it may not have won, that car is suddenly more honorable because it risked everything and survived. If you go to a car show people like to look at restored cars, but they’ll spend more time looking at a race car. A Dick Landy car is revered not because it’s a Hemi GTX, but because it’s a car that has survived 5,000 runs. It’s a warrior and represents everything you want it to be.”

Truer words were never spoken. I was reminded of this at a recent Outlaw 10.5 race when a competitor slapped the wall, causing mostly cosmetic damage to the flank of his car. No matter, a large crowd gathered when he returned to his pit, and this car that no one had paid any particular attention to when it came off the trailer was suddenly one of the stars of the meet. It had raced and survived, albeit a little worse for wear, and everyone wanted to see the battered warrior.

Perhaps the greatest attraction of drag racing, though—or any racing, for that matter—is the likelihood of a good story. Like a great movie or novel, a great race involves heroes and villains, thrilling and poignant moments, intense rivalries and displays of sportsmanship. It inevitably offers excitement, surprises, disappointment, and triumph. And no matter what, someone always enjoys a happy ending.

Race safe,


P.S. What’s the attraction of drag racing for you? Is it the accessibility of drivers and teams? The variety of classes? Potential for big numbers? Send an e-mail and let us know what you think is the big deal with drag racing.

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Discover your outlaw roots

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