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It’s a drag!


A friend of mine Mark invited me to go with him to the National Championship drag races at Sears Point Raceway last weekend. I haven’t been to a drag strip for years and years, let alone a National Championship round.

I’ve been trying to remember what kind of speed a top fuel car was doing the last time but I can’t remember. But I don’t think funny Cars were invented yet, so it’s been a while.

I grew up in the desert in Southern California and it was a 60 mile trip on a two lane road to the San Fernando Valley and Bob’s big boys and Mel’s. All I cared about in those days were girls and the fastest a car I could get. I worked in service stations while going to high school. That’s back in the days when you would pump the customer’s gas; wash their windows check under the hood and even check tire pressures if they wanted you to. I also worked in the service bay doing lube and oil changes and getting an education on how to do mechanical work on cars.

The second and third cars I owned were my attempt to have a fast car. The second car was a 1953 Oldsmobile two door sedan with a stick shift (Three on the tree) and a V8 motor with three two barrel carburetors, or 3 two’s as it was known as. And that came stock from the factory like that. A stick shift and 3 two’s was very rare. It would do 85MPH in second gear. I got my first ticket in that car (85 in a 55) my second attempt at a fast car was my third car and it was a 1949 Ford two door sedan. And it had a 283cc Chevy V8 with a cam, solid lifters (Those were cool sounding in those days especially with a cam that had a little rump, rump to it. It had a three speed transmission that was floor mounted.  My fifth car was a 1957 Chevy Bellaire two door hardtop that I paid $1295, I still have the paperwork for that car, (But not the car) that was a cool car. My sixth car was a 1957 Ford Ranchero it was grey with red tuck n roll and a three speed floor shift. That was also a cool car. By this time I was married and had a baby on the way. A friend of mine wanted to trade his car for my car and I would take over the payments on his car, so we traded. My seventh car was a 1963 dodge two door sedan with a 443 (I think) wedge motor with two off set four barrel carburetors. With what was referred to as the typewriter automatic transmission. This was a bare bones car built for one basic thing to drag race. These cars were a legitimate 11.5 elapsed time 110 MPH off the showroom floor car. Well I had this car for a very short time. Remember I had a wife and a baby on the way and this thing got about 9 miles to the gallon and even at the low gas prices in those days cost a lot of money to operate. So we traded back and that was the end of my fast cars for a long, long time.

Mark picked me up Sunday morning and off we went. Now there are a number of people who won’t ride with Mark and I must admit for good reason. My wife asked who’s driving and when I told her Mark she cringed and said I wish you would drive. Mark drives fast and is loosey goosey, when he pulls a trailer it’s even worse.

We made it and parked in the will call lot. Mark called a friend named Jim who came down riding a four wheeler and escorted us past the pay to park line and up the hill to a spot near the entrance. (It pays to know people) We made the short walk down the hill into the pits, made our way to a line in front of the grandstands and paid $20 each to have access to that area. We were I’d guess about 150 plus feet from the track and across from the staging area. To this point there hadn’t any been activity on the track in fact not even a sound, that all changed when the first top fuel car was started and holy shit it was loud. It was a single car run; it staged then left the starting line and roared down the track in something like a tick under four seconds and around three hundred eighteen miles per hour. I was not prepared for that sound and the sensation I felt. Holy shit again, I’ve tried to conjure up the words to adequately describe that sound and sensation and anything I come up with can’t do that sensation justice. Then they started lining up two at a time for eliminations so now instead one you had two going down the track. So all your sensations were doubled, each time your body would be enveloped in the sound and the sensations, the hair on your arms would stand up, I’ve never experienced anything like it and it would be easy to get addicted to that sensation.

After the first round of eliminations were over which included the Funny Cars we made our way back into the pits and found John Force’s pits. Or I should say the JFR pits. (John Force Racing) that was very impressive, they had four big rig haulers parked side by side. We had hospitality passes for his pit area. John was the last of the Funny Cars to run and he won his first round so by the time we got to his pits his crew were just starting to tear down his motor. I stood about 20 feet from them watching about six of them tear down the motor. There were two other guys tearing down the blower, one guy repacking the parachutes and other people flying around. They basically rebuild the motor and do all the other things that need doing in about forty five minutes. It was truly amazing to watch; when they were done they fired it up right there and here I am about twenty feet away. The noise was defining of course but the smell of the fuel is something else. The other people in the hospitality suite had eyes burning it hurt my sinuses and throat.

About that time they served lunch and shortly after the Force’s were out in force (Brittney, Courtney and John) and Robert Hight (Who is the manager of JFR and also drives one the Funny Cars) they were signing autographs, taking pictures and interacting with the people in the suite. (In case you don’t know who they are, John is a legend having won sixteen National championships in Funny Car. Brittney and Courtney are his daughters and are exceptional drivers themselves) they were all very, very pleasant and certainly knew what is expected of them and John gave a nice short little speech thanking everyone etc. After, John went out to the people who were on the outside looking in and mingled and signed autographs and took pictures. I have to admit I took the Peak hat they gave us and had them all sign it, a first for me I’m not an autograph guy.

Mark and I wondered around the pits looking at the other top fuel and funny car teams before we went back out to the strip for round two of the eliminations. The one thing about this once they start the competition it goes very fast. At the end of round two, of which John was eliminated (John and I now on a first name basis of course) they had some Pro Stock cars that get down the track in the mid six second and two hundred twenty plus range. They had some bikes that were right at 200 MPH and a variety of other cars that had spent since Friday competing for the right to get in finals on Sunday all of it very entertaining.

Between the second and third rounds Mark and I made our way via a tunnel under the track to the other side where the bleachers were which are a lot closer to the track than the other side. In order to get into the bleachers we would have had to pay another $20 for an assigned seat, we were cheap and opted not to. We did stand next to the fence and were there when they stared round three and being that fifty or so feet closer was another whole new experience. You take what we were experiencing on the other side and not double it, but close. If I’m ever lucky enough to go again I will make sure I get a seat in those bleachers. Unfortunately there was supposed to be a cover on that fence so you couldn’t stand there and watch and a bunch of track people came up and started hanging the cover back up again, so we headed back over to the other side again.

Round three came and went with some very, very close exciting racing. The really great thing was nothing happened during the day to slow down or close the track for clean up, very unusual I would think. It’s amazing how close the competition was, some of those races were decided by mere thousands of a second. The top fuel dragsters were running anywhere from 3.8’s to 4.0 seconds and in the mid three hundred twenties to the three hundred thirty miles per hour. The Funny Cars were slightly less. 

In the finals for the day Robert Hight John Force’s manager ended up winning the Funny Car final and the two top fuel cars both had problems and at various points on the track and lost their motors, the winner basically coasting a cross the finishing line.

It was a great day the racing was great the weather was awesome and a big relief from the 100 plus temperatures in the valley. And the tickets we had made us feel like we were among the important people for the day, but then on the way home reality bites.


I survived the trip home with Mark as well.


Doug 21J


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