There are a lot of fans frustrated with NASCAR right now for a number of reasons. From the Chase and the nature of its eliminations to the cars and the aerodynamics… you know the story. This week, we’ll take a break from NASCAR and look at a different form of racing and why race fans of all kinds should check it out if they haven’t… and maybe give it another chance if they have only looked once. That’s right, those guys who race for four seconds at a time and don’t even turn: NHRA drag racing.
1. There’s something for everyone.
Want sheer horsepower? The NHRA’s two top divisions, Top Fuel and Funny Car, commonly called the Nitro classes for the nitromethane fuel they burn through at an incredible rate (mileage is measured in feet per gallon), have that. Both types of car turn a whopping 10,000 horsepower. Compare that with a NASCAR Sprint Cup car’s 750 or so with the tapered spacer. At the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte each year, the four nitro cars on track at one time produce more raw horsepower than an entire 43-car Cup field. They don’t look much like the cars you or I drive, though, so if you want something more familiar in the pro divisions, check out Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle divisions. There are also the souped-up Pro Mods and the Sportsman cars, which include cars a lot like you see on the street. In some divisions, the racecars are street legal cars ranging from compacts to station wagons. Want actual stock car racing? You’ll find it at the drag strip.
2. One word: accessibility.
In NASCAR, you pretty much have to know someone with a team or sponsor to score hot passes. At an NHRA national event, if you have a ticket, you have the NHRA version of a hot pass. You can walk through what’s pit and garage combined and watch teams work on their cars. The immediate area where teams are working is roped off, but you can easily see what they are doing as they prepare their cars. You can get so close, in fact, that if a team fires off a nitro car’s engine, the exhaust will make you cry. Possibly all day.
And you can not only see the team turn wrenches on your favorite driver’s car. If you are patient and polite, chances are, you will probably meet at least one of the top drivers in the sport. Most willingly come out to chat with fans and sign autographs between rounds. Drivers often spot longtime fans and treat them like old friends. Many will take time to snap a picture or two, or answer a fan’s questions. It’s the way NASCAR was decades ago, but now it sets NHRA apart from just about every racing series.
3. OMG LOUD!
Think the Cup field coming by the stands at full song is noisy? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. A pair of nitro cars making a pass is loud enough to border on terrifying. Television doesn’t come close to doing them justice. You don’t just hear nitro cars. You feel nitro cars. They resonate through your body and shake you out of your seat. You don’t just watch these cars. You experience them with every sense. The smell of nitromethane is memorable. You either embrace it, or you don’t. Either way, you cry.
This video is probably the closest you can get to understanding the noise and power of a Top Fuel Dragster without being at the track.
4. Girls getting it done.
NHRA doesn’t have a diversity program. NHRA has diversity. There are African American, Latino and female drivers. And the girls get it done on track. They’re not there to attract fans or to be another pretty face. They’re there to win, and that’s exactly what they do. Over 100 national events have been won by women across all four pro divisions. Collectively, the NHRA women have combined for seven championships across three pro divisions. Only Funny Car has yet to have a female champion. Women aren’t uncommon or a novelty in the garage. Not only are there regular female drivers in all four pro divisions. Angelle Sampey‘s 41 overall wins in Pro Stock is good for 15th in NHRA history across all four pro divisions. In all, 15 women have wins in those four classes. Um, Danica who?
5. Racing for the ADD Generation.
If the complaint in NASCAR is that the races are too long, then maybe a day at the drag strip is more some people’s speed. Each race lasts just a couple of minutes, and that’s including the pre-pass burnout. For those that are unfamiliar, burnouts help heat up the tires and remove debris before a pass. They’re not a celebratory gesture, but a necessary one. Several pro divisions race on Sunday along with assorted others during the weekend. A day at the drag strip is generally an all-day affair when Pro Mods and/or Sportsman cars are in on the action. Not every pass can promise a breathtaking finish, because cars break and drivers make mistakes, but you’ll see several runs decided by margins so tiny you need the scoreboard to tell you who won. It may be different from the type of racing you’re used to, but it’s everything racing should be. Well, almost. They have a Chase-esque championship system, too, though without eliminations.
At the end of the day, not every kind of racing is for everyone, and I’m not suggesting abandoning ship, though many have and are. I won’t condemn them, either. But if you want hard racing and close finishes with a diverse field of cars and drivers who are accessible to every fan at the track, maybe you should check it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.