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A quarter mile – or 402 meters – of two-lane tarmac. Two monstrous race cars placed at one end vibrating and shaking with vigor on their enormous rear tyres. Green light… a V8 cacophony and tyres light up in thick smoke. The cars blast viciously down the track and a mere five seconds later: Parachute.

Today I must request the help of our readers, as I frankly lack the ability to fully understand this discipline: Drag racing. Up until this point, I’ve found this form of motorsport bizarre. A bit like an old western duel, or a hen fight. It just seems utterly pointless. It resembles men competing over the size of a specific body part. But I suppose it’s practically a natural instinct for mankind to compete in just about any conceivable way at any time and at any place.

I’ve genuinely tried to remain open-minded about drag racing, to the point where I even attended such a dueling competition several years ago. Granted, it wasn’t in the USA, which is perhaps where it all went wrong, as believers have informed me that only in God’s own country can one truly experience drag racing in its purest form. So I suppose I must conclude that I don’t even know what it is that I have such preconceived perceptions about. I do however appreciate the old pictures from these races – especially those from the fifties. This was when the discipline was still young and full of grassroot enthusiasm. The pictures show beautifully hand-painted drag racers and women, plenty of women.

Women and fancy paintjobs just isn’t enough. Surely there’s got to be more to it? I’m not entirely sure what it is I feel is missing. Maybe the whole thing is just too grotesque for me? I even find some of the women a little vulgar, but that can of course be sorted with a little sherry. Interestingly, I adore everything about the dried out Bonneville Salt Lake and its high-speed history. I also appreciate the early hotrod culture which led to some fascinating creations. But drag racing… I’m in need of a helping hand to fully understand and embrace this segment of American motorsport.

Here’s hoping that today’s replies section will be buzzing with activity as readers either confirm or reject my prejudice for drag racing. Is it just a relic from a rudimentary corner of the brain dating back to ancient caveman? Or is there in fact sportsmanship to be found within? How much “car” is there in those competing vehicles? And should Europe have more drag strips?

6 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt
    Søren, I largely agree with you. Drag racing has never really managed to catch my interest. Heh… a friend of mine calls it “steering-lock racing”… :-D
    Yet, I think it’s important to view drag racing with the same eyes with which we view so many other disciplines of motorsport. Let’s be honest, current F1 is truly boring and nondescript. Yet, F1 of the sixties, seventies, eighties and even to some extent the nineties was fabulous! Much the same can be said about Touring Car racing. And while not near as profound, maybe even about rallying and Le Mans…?? In short – everything was better in the old days… ;-)
    And as such, let’s look at drag racing in it’s earliest – and purest – format. Still not really my thing, but there is an undeniable charm and appealing grassroot atmosphere to these old black & white pictures which you have chosen for todays article..
    Reply
  2. Tony Wawryk
    I’ve been to only one drag race meeting, in the early 1990’s, at Santa Pod Raceway. I went out of curiosity and to be honest, quite enjoyed it, though not enough to go again.
    The sound and fury and sheer spectacle was quite something, especially when burn-outs are being performed, and the ground literally shakes when the top fuel dragsters do their thing. The speeds at that level are of course ridiculous, so the racing – which is rarely close, it seems – is over in the blink of an eye.
    Of course, these monsters bear no resemblance to any actual cars – it’s only in the Stock categories that anything resembling a recognisable car competes.
    However, you could say the same about modern sports car racing – one reason why I have lost interest in it is that the prototypes in particular commit the dual crimes of being both ugly and not being cars, but four-wheeled high-speed science laboratories.
    Is drag racing a legit form of motor sport? I don’t see why not, and in some ways is the purest form there is – based on simple straight-line acceleration and speed. Is it bizarre? Definitely!
    Reply
  3. YrHmblHst
    Obviously, as you state clearly, you know little of drag racing. Yes, there is much more to it than meets the uninformed eye, and one would need to learn quite a bit or participate more than once to begin to see it.
    Having said that, may I make it QUITE clear that I am speaking of real drag racing – NOT the 1000 foot choreographed and highly politicised pre-packaged program of mindless commercialism put out as a noisy TV infomercial that modern ‘professional’ drag racing has become. Of course, the same can be said about that motorised high school football game known as nascar, and reiterated exponentially about the [again] obviously and wholly choreographed attempt at social engineering laughingly called formula one these days. bernie even ruined rallying at the top echelon…
    Drag racing is fun. It began as a way to have a little competition away from public roads; its just an outgrowth of the ‘stoplight grand prix’. Understand why y’all dont necessarily ‘get it’ over there, as the environment in which one drives is so radically different -as are the cars bitd – and the act of ‘cruising’ or ‘draggin Main’ was/is relatively unknown. Drag racing grew out of its environment and its society – it is uniquely American, even tho others have taken it up, embraced it in large numbers and have done exceedingly well with it. Just like one cannot judge america by new york city, chicongo or los angeles, one cannot judge Drag Racing by this modern drivel the nhra proffers forth as relevant motorsport / entertainment.
    Reply
  4. Anders Bilidt
    Heh, , trust our by far most active US commentator to put us right when it comes to all things Stateside… :-)
    But you’re right of course, it’s all a byproduct of culture.
    Reply
  5. Søren Navntoft
    @tony-wawryk, I like the idea of drag racing being the most basic and purest of racing. As Henry Ford supposedly said: “Auto racing began 5 minutes after the second car was built.”

    , it is always a pleasure to learn something new, even at my 52 years of age. Thank you for the insight.

    Reply
  6. YrHmblHst
    “As Henry Ford supposedly said: “Auto racing began 5 minutes after the second car was built.”
    Yep…and ironically, did you know the first ticket for street racing was issued right on what is now Woodward Avenue? On March 17…1895.
    Reply

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