NORMAL IS AS
The 1/8 mile is good, but keep the 1/4 for
addicts have it good this fall in the deep south. As long as Hurricane Ivan
doesn't stick around too long over northern Alabama, the world's biggest Outlaw
10.5 race is set to go Sept. 18-19, at Huntsville Dragway. Then, a few weeks
later on Oct. 9-11, Piedmont Dragway in North Carolina will host its annual
Big Dog Shootout, featuring go-for-the-throat racers from the North doing battle
against the South's favorite sons. Meanwhile, just a few hours south of that
on the same weekend, Carolina Dragway in Jackson, SC, will be the site of "Dragstock," a
unique team affair pitting 11 AMS Pro Mods against 11 of the quickest outlaw
doorslammers on the planet. And all of this on the old 660.
I've got to admit, I was once one of those quarter-mile snobs who didn't consider
it "real" drag racing unless 1,320 feet were covered from start to
finish. I grew up with little live exposure to drag racing, but from what I
read in the magazines and saw on TV (albeit rarely!), the quarter mile ruled.
That prejudice lasted even into my initial years covering the sport in the
early- and mid-'90s, when I would traipse across the south—southern Ontario,
that is—in search of straight-line speed. All of the tracks I visited
back then were of the traditional length, so that's what I considered "normal." In
fact, I had barely heard of racing on the eighth.
That was before my move to Atlanta in 1997, though. That transplant put me
in the heart of eighth-mile country, where I'd venture to say there's at least
20 of these shortened dragstrips within a three-hour drive. Increasingly my
drag-racing duties took me to places like Dallas, GA's Southeastern Dragway,
Phenix Motor Sports Raceway in Alabama, and Brainerd Optimist Dragstrip, right
on the Georgia-Tennessee border—and you know what? I liked it!
I used to feel, not necessarily cheated, but somehow diminished if I didn't
see the big speed those extra 660 feet allow. I mistakenly believed you couldn't
really have a significant race over such a short distance. But not any more.
I've consistently seen some mighty close racing this year on the eighth-mile
tracks in classes ranging from the bracket wars to blown Pro Mods. I've particularly
concentrated on the very healthy Outlaw 10.5 circuit down here and been impressed
with the fact that the racing is getting tighter as the season progresses,
and the shortened distance just means that any slipup probably means an early
trip to the trailer. With just 660 feet to travel, there's very little time
to recover from errors.
That said, I'm not in agreement with anyone who suggests going to the half-distance
for Top Fuel or nitro Funny Cars. I realize it would instantly address many
of the safety concerns that have recently cropped up (recently, that is, to
anyone who hasn't been paying attention), but I think it also would diminish
(there's that word again) those classes to being only half of what they are
What's a typical 1/8-mile time for a nitro burner these days? Something around
2.5 to three seconds? To me, that's just too short in time to have that meaningful
race I was talking about. Where it works for Pro Mods that are just barely
able to dip into the threes in outlaw trim, it's just over too quickly for
the fans to appreciate what happens on the track. And a three-second run would
essentially eliminate all those pedaling contests that everyone always claims
to hate ("I just want to see good, side-by-side racing!"), but never
fail to set the crowd abuzz whenever they occur.