Forget Lent! The NHRA Season Starts Tomorrow!

Ya know what I’m giving up for Lent? I’m giving up leaving the TV off all day because there are no sports on! 

I know… Super Bowl XLVII, that’s 47 for those of you who don’t know, was just last week, but that was only one game in 14 days! By the way, I bet the NFL drops the Roman numerals soon, because in 3 years I really don’t expect them to call it “Super Bowl L”… as in LOSER!

Have no fear, folks, ’cause racin’ is back! That’s right… The NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) 2013 Mello Yello Series rolls into Pomona, CA on Valentine’s Day tomorrow. This will serve as a primer of sorts for the upcoming season.

For starters… What is drag racing?

Simply put, it’s an acceleration contest. Two drivers stage, in separate lanes, before what is called the Christmas Tree, I guess because it has a lot of lights on it…

NHRA Christmas Tree

… Not counting the individual LEDs, there are 42 lighting elements on that thing! The only ones that count are the green ones, however, because that means GO! But there’s a system in place… The Christmas Tree works from top to bottom. As the drivers approach the start line the front tires of their cars will break two beams that are fired across the track. The first beam broken is “pre-stage,” about 7 inches before the start line and will light the top half of the blue circle on top. The second beam broken is “stage” and will light the bottom half of the blue circle. Once the entire circle is lit, the driver is at the start line; and when both drivers are staged the lights bisecting the blue circle will light and the tree is active. Since I’m talking about the NHRA here I’ll describe what happens next in that sense. The three amber lights will come on simultaneously, followed by the green light 0.4 seconds later. That means GO! The only time you’ll see a red light lit is if a driver goes before the green light comes on. When they do that they are disqualified!

Damn… I just wrote almost 200 words describing the start of a drag race! In short it goes like this: BLUE. AMBER. HOLY SHIT GREEN MASH THE GAS GO GO GO!

Once the gas is mashed, other beams fired across the track record the following:

Reaction Time: Time from green light to vehicle movement. This is huge and is the difference in a lot of races! More on this in a bit..

60 feet time…

330 feet time…

660 feet or 1/8th mile time…

1/8th mile speed…

1000 feet time… more on this later…

1/4 mile time…

Final MPH…

The first vehicle across the finish line wins!

Prior to the race the drivers perform what is called a burnout…

The burnout serves three purposes.

  1. Clean the tires.
  2. Heat up the tires.
  3. Add a fresh layer of rubber to the racing surface.

Speaking of the racing surface… Holy shit is it sticky! I’ve walked the track at Norwalk Raceway Summit Motorsports Park and both times my sandals Jesus slippers stuck to the track and were removed from my feet! The NHRA applies a compound, known as VHT TrackBite Concentrate, to the racing surface that increases the traction of the race cars’ tires.

What’s the true distance of the race?

Drag racing has been based on the quarter mile (1,320 feet) for pretty much ever. Back on June 21st of 2008, however, Scott Kalitta died in a horrific crash during qualifying (you will begin to cry at the :20 mark)…

… That made the NHRA change the distance the top two classes race to 1,000 feet instead of the aforementioned 1,320 feet… for safety purposes…. The following video will make you cry again… because it’s the next day’s race between John Force Racing’s Robert Hight and his would be opponent…the late Scott Kalitta… Hight merely idles his race car down the track in a tribute to Scott…

… Holy SHIT was that sad… Loogit team Kalitta huddled around his start line mourning the loss of Scott…

What are these different classes you mentioned?

There are four classes of vehicles that are driven in the top series of the NHRA.

1.) Top Fuel Dragsters…

Tony Schumacher Top Fuel Dragster

Long… (up to 25 feet) and skinny with huge tires on the rear and tiny ones on the front to maximize their straight-line acceleration and speed.

Powerful… without getting all technical, good ol’ fashioned pushrod V8 up to 500 cubic inches that sits behind the driver. Huge blower to suck in the enormous volume of air required to mix and burn with the fuel… which is 90% nitromethane and 10% methanol. All this produces anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 horsepower… about double the power of a modern locomotive!

LOUD! Holy shit, it’s the loudest sound I’ve ever heard! They say 150 decibels! And you more than just hear it ~ ya feel it. It’s hard to describe, ya almost have to experience it live, it feels like your brain is being tickled. I’m sure it’s not healthy!

Top fuel dragsters are the fastest sanctioned category of race cars, with the fastest competitors reaching speeds of 330 MPH and finishing the 1,000 foot runs in less than 3.8 seconds.

2.) Funny Cars…

Courtney Force

Funny cars have forward-mounted engines and carbon fiber bodies over the chassis, giving them an appearance vaguely approximating manufacturers’ showroom models. The Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Impala sedans, along with the Ford Mustang and Toyota Solara coupe, are now commonly used in the NHRA. That’s the lovely Courtney Force’s Mustang above!

Power, volume and speed are all pretty similar to the top fuel dragsters, though funny cars are a bit “slower” because of the full body. They still nail over 300 mph and around 4 second 1,000 foot times.

3.) Pro Stock…

Erica Enders' Cobalt

This class can be known as “all motor,” as the cars cannot use artificial induction such as turbocharging, supercharging, or nitrous oxide, and there are very strict rules governing the modifications allowed to the engines, and the types of bodies used. And their fuel is limited to 118 octane racing fuel!

These cars and their 500 cubic inch engines still produce upwards of 1,500 horsepower and run over 200 MPH in around 6.6 seconds for a 1/4 mile run. Still impressive, but it’s hard for me to get into this class… Pictured above is Erica Enders’ Chevy Cobalt.

4.) Pro Stock Motorcycles…

Holy shit! I dunno how these men, and women, are able to comfortably sit on their bikes because of their enormous balls! They’re pushing 200 MPH on 2 freakin’ wheels in 1,320 feet with no protection at all!

That’s the four classes of vehicles in the top level of the NHRA. Now, within each class, competition is very tight, and barring a major malfunction, most races are within .01 or even .001 of a second. Oftentimes you’ll hear the terms fast and quick mentioned; these two words are not interchangeable in drag racing.

Quick refers to the time it takes the vehicle to go from start to finish, aka elapsed time or ET.

Fast means speed…as in miles per hour!

One would naturally assume that the fastest or quickest car wins the race, but that isn’t always true…

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of reaction time and that is huge! If both cars are just as fast and just as quick, the driver who launches, even .001 seconds ahead, wins!

Then there’s the sometimes confusing “holeshot” victory… no this is not a term borrowed from the porn industry… a car runs a quicker ET from start to finish, but the driver’s reaction time was absolute dog shit, and loses the race!

See… reaction time is key in drag racing!

Soooo… what to watch for this season?

Brittany Force

Brittany Force will be making her debut in top fuel. This is the first time ever that John Force Racing has fielded a dragster. Look for her to struggle at times, but I think she’ll be alright.

Mother, Laurie, and Dad, John with Courtney!

Mother, Laurie, and Dad, John with Courtney!

In funny car, Courtney Force is entering her sophomore season. Last year she was inconsistent with her reaction times early on, but tightened things up later in the season. She’s got a legitimate shot at the title this year…

<br />

In pro stock, I expect Erica Enders to win a slew of events this year. Championship? Very possible!

And in pro stock motorcycle, Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec might struggle on their Harleys this year after dominating the previous few years… Why? Because the NHRA doesn’t seem to like the American bikes dominating, so they placed more restrictions on ’em this year… It’s bullshit!

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