If you know what a burnout, breakout and Christmas tree have in common, you’re probably a fan of NHRA Drag Racing.
If you’re not familiar with drag racing, let’s start at the starting line. Today’s drag races typically begin with a pole of electric lights called a Christmas tree. Each side of the pole has a set of lights, one for each lane. Blue, amber, green, red… Ready, set, go!
Drag races typically are two automobiles or motorcyles racing on a straight, short track. The typical distance is a quarter of a mile. That said, Top Fuel and Funny Car races are now typically 3/16ths of a mile.
The National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA, is the largest drag racing sanctioning body. (The International Hot Rod Association is 2nd-largest). If you’re not familiar with either, take a look at the video below of 6-time world champion Clay Millican setting a track record.
Like baseball and apple pie, drag racing seems particularly American, with roots going back to unofficial drag races in California’s Mojave Desert in the 1930s. What is drag racing? Simply when two cars or motorcycles race to cross a finish line. The distance is usually 1/4 mile, although it can vary.
A drag race is at the center of the iconic 1955 film Rebel Without A Cause.
The film’s star, James Dean, was actually an aspiring race car driver and on his way to a race in Salinas, California when he died in a car crash. (He couldn’t stop his Porsche 550 in time to avoid a collision at an intersection). The film opened a month later and Dean become a legend shortly after. Here’s the drag racing scene:
NHRA Drag Racing
Today, NHRA drag racing offers opportunities for hot rod enthusiasts of all levels, from youth ages 5 to 17 to seasoned professionals, like Clay Millican, who races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Top Fuel Dragsters, like the one Millican was driving in the YouTube clip are the fastest-accelerating and most recognizable of all drag race cars. The 25-foot-long “rocket car” can cover the 1,000-foot course in less than 3.7 seconds at speeds faster than 330 mph. with their supercharged, fuel-injected nitromethane-burning engines producing an estimated 10,000 horsepower!
Funny Car Drag Racing
In addition to Top Fuel Dragsters, NHRA has many other categories of competition. So-called “Funny Cars” produce an estimated 7,000 horsepower and travel a quarter mile in 4.6 seconds. They look like Pro Stock cars (below) but with alterations such as large rear wheels. Thus the name “funny cars”.
“Like so many other people,” says NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart, “five minutes watching Funny Cars, and I was hooked.”
Here’s a clip of the 2016 Funny Car Finals between Tim Wilkerson and John Force.
Other NHRA Dragsters
Pro Stock Cars look like regular cars but have had extensive modifications and can reach speeds of 205 mph. And there are even Junior Dragsters, designed for kids, ages 8-17.
Here’s a clip of the National Pro Stock Final.
Here’s a Pro Stock Motorcycle Final between Angelle Sampey and Jerry Savoie.
Finally, this clip from ESPN 2 spotlights a Junior dragster race.
Top Fuel Dragsters
Though they may incorporate a Chrysler Hemi or Ford Wedge, these vehicles have been extensively modified and use special fuel like Methanol and Nitromethane. The fuel and modifications allow Top Fuel dragsters to leave the starting line with the same force of the space shuttle when it leaves the launching pad at Cape Canaveral, nearly five times that of gravity.
Dragsters and Brakes
When the parachutes deploy after a race, many people in the crowd may take another sip of soda, but according to Clay Millican, stopping a Top Fuel Dragster is “one of the most exciting parts of the run.”
Although NHRA dragsters don’t use a typical braking system, Millican and NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart recently discussed the importance of brakes and why it’s important to get new brake clips when you change your pads.
It’s not a surprise that a professional like Millican is very concerned with stopping vehicles safely and efficiently whether he’s on the track or on the street.
While you won’t see any of the NHRA drag racing cars in your neighborhood, you can check them out at an event near you. Check out the 2017 Mello Yello NHRA schedule and enjoy the fun for yourself!