It was straight-line-meets-circle-track Thursday morning (April 27) at Charlotte Motor Speedway and zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., as the star drivers of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series got a chance to swap seats with some of the ace pilots from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and get themselves a taste of nitromethane.
Truck Series drivers Christopher Bell, Noah Gragson, Ryan Truex and Grant Enfinger joined the fun. They were paired with NHRA Top Fuelers Shawn Langdon, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Funny Car driver JR Todd of Kalitta Motorsports, taking turns running the high banks of the 1.5-mile oval before heading across the street to the “Bellagio of Drag Strips.”
First up were some hot laps at Charlotte in a pair of Toyota Camry Hybrid pace cars, with the NHRA drivers riding shotgun as the NASCAR boys took them around at around 80 mph.
After a few laps of orientation, the NHRA drivers took over the driver’s seat and tried their best Ricky Bobby impressions, looking to frighten their NASCAR counterparts by moving right up against the outside wall.
Todd turned in some impressive lap times for a driver who doesn’t normally make turns on the racetrack.
“I don’t get to do this enough,” Todd said. “I’d love to drive something on dirt – I’m a big sprint car fan.”
Langdon had tried to give the crowd a smoky burnout as he left the pits, but the Camry Hybrid wasn’t up to the task.
“I’d like to drive what they got,” Langdon said. “Just holding [the throttle] down and see what it does. If it’s something that races competitively on four wheels, I’m in – doesn’t matter to me.”
After turning a few laps, the action shifted to zMax Dragway as Langdon and Todd showed off their rides to the four NASCAR drivers, none of whom had ever been to an NHRA event before.
They were in for quite an introduction.
After a brief orientation on the cockpit layout, Langdon helped Gragson strap into his Top Fuel machine to bring 10,000 horses to life. Langdon’s crew fired up the engine, and the look on Gragson’s face said it all.
“That was awesome,” Gragson said. “I can’t imagine driving one of these things. These guys have some guts. That is all.
“My heart is pumping hard right now and we weren’t even doing anything – we were just idling. These guys are crazy. This stuff did not make sense to me until I just sat in there about two minutes ago.”
The entourage then rolled on a few pit stalls down to Todd’s Kalitta Motorsports Funny Car team, where the NASCAR drivers got a look at the slightly roomier cockpit of the DHL-sponsored machine.
Bell was the first to climb into the driver’s seat as they cranked up the car, only this time Todd’s crew cracked the throttle open just enough to cause everyone in attendance to jump back five feet.
“That’s so much more power than the Truck Series,” said Bell. “It’s some crazy horsepower.”
Truex took his turn in Todd’s ride and was equally surprised by the experience.
“I don’t know if I could handle this,” he said. “It blew me away when they hit the throttle. I felt like the motor was going twist right out of the car when they hit the throttle – it’s just so much power.”
For the finale, the party moved over to the zMax starting line, where Langdon and Todd performed a burnout for the crowd. That came as a delight to the four NASCAR drivers, each of whom had no idea what to expect.
Gragson, for one, was caught completely by surprise when the car launched off the starting line.
“I can’t be the only that’s jumping!” the Truck Series rookie exclaimed. “I was not expecting that at all. They whacked the throttle, they got the RPMs up probably five or six times already, and it’s caught me off guard every time. I was blown away.”
“Not ready for that,” Truex added. “I didn’t expect it to take off like that, so I wasn’t prepared.”
“They’re ready for NHRA,” Todd said of the four NASCAR drivers. “They got the experience of the warmup and hitting the throttle – we don’t even get to do that. I was jealous. I’m never surprised to see people jump when we crack the throttle. Anytime it’s someone’s first time, they’re gonna jump to matter what. I enjoy seeing that – it’s a good selling point for [NHRA].”