NHRA – THE FASTEST, MOST DIVERSE PRO SPORT IN THE WORLD

Imagine this:

You’re sitting behind the wheel of an NHRA Top Fuel Dragster at the start of the next race.

You have a helmet on, fire suit and gloves, and you’re strapped into the fastest race car on the planet. 

Your dragster rattles and rolls under the weight of 8,000 horsepower waiting for your cue.

You look to your right and see your opponent.  She looks back at you.

The racing fuel powering through your engine wafts through the air.

Fans are on their feet in the stands, cheering you on.

You can see the finish line 1000 feet away.

Then you notice the Christmas Tree’s first pre-staging lights are up.  You inch your car to the staging lines.

You wait for the second signal…

And you’re off!

In less than 4 seconds, your car crosses the finish line and reaches a top speed of about 320 mph. 

The parachute disperses from the back of the car to help slow you down. 

Five to six G-forces just went through your body, more than a NASA astronaut would experience.

Jealous yet?

I know I am.

But, as a spectator, being witness to a pro drag race in person can also be exhilarating.  It’s a full body experience:

The tremendous amount of horsepower thunders the ground below and travels all the way up into your chest. 

It’s so loud; you think your eardrums will shatter. 

The cars race by you more than 37 times faster than any street car would. 

You put your hand to your face and feel small bits of burnt rubber on your skin.

As a kid, I enjoyed the NHRA experience with my Dad.  Now my husband and I share the fun.  I hope that others out there will expand their sporting repertoire and give it a chance.  It’s got it all: speed, power, thrills …

Background

The NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), or the sport of pro drag racing, tours America in 24 live weekend events from February to November of every year. All events are scheduled Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The current tour name is “NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series” and it features four pro classes:

1. Top Fuel

  • Fuel mixture is 90% nitromethane with 10% methanol;
  • 8,000 HP;
  • 6G acceleration from a standing start;
  • Record fastest top speed: 337.58mph (Tony Schumacher)

2. Funny Car

  • Fuel mixture is usually 85–90% nitromethane with 10–15% methanol;
  • 8,000 HP;
  • 6G acceleration from a standing start;
  • Record fastest top speed: 334.32 (Mike Ashely).

3. Pro-Stock

  • All motor;
  • Racing gasoline (octane rating: 118);
  • 1300-1400 HP;
  • Record fastest top speed: 211.69 (Jason Line).

4. Pro-Stock Motorcycle (Appears in 11 of the 24 events)

  • Racing gasoline (octane rating: 118);
  • 350+ HP;
  • 3G acceleration from a standing start;
  • Record fastest top speed: 197.45 (GT Tonglet).

During the first two days of each race weekend (Friday and Saturday), 18 cars of each class compete in two “Qualifying” rounds each day.  At this stage, the cars don’t actually compete directly against the car in the next lane; the goal is to qualify with one of the top 16 fastest ET in that particular class.

Those top 16 will then go onto to compete in the “Eliminations” round (on Sunday).  The racers will now compete head-to-head with their competitors in 4 rounds to determine the Champion.

After the pro classes are finished, spectators can also watch the amateur classes compete which are great fun as well.  For a complete description, go to the NHRA site or, click this link: http://www.nhra.com/nhra101/classes.aspx.

The Pits

During and after the races, spectators can also experience the behind-the-scenes pit area away from the race lanes. This is a fantastic perk of the NHRA experience.

Essentially, the pit areas are where the cars and their crew return after races to break down and set up for the next race.

Incredibly, so much force is exerted on a race car during each round down the track, it is necessary for the crew to remove and re-assemble all the key parts of the cars including the supercharger, cylinder heads, spark plugs, valve covers, and oil and fuel lines.

And, during the elimination rounds, they don’t have much time to do it (only 75 minutes).

Also interesting to note, the pit crews are only actually 5-10 feet away from the spectator, so you can really have a birds-eye view of the action as it happens. Meanwhile, the drivers often come out in the pit areas to sign autographs and meet the fans.  Not many sports offer this much accessibility to its stars.

Safety

With extreme sports comes danger.  And, safety is always an area of concern.  The NHRA takes this very seriously with their motto ‘dedicated to safety’.

Unfortunately, fatalities are not totally uncommon in the sport.  Since 1971, 11 driver fatalities have occurred as well as random spectator deaths from flying debris.

With each incident, the NHRA has instilled various safety measures and requirements for the fans and the drivers.

Some of the most recent changes include: increased crew of safety personnel called “Safety Safari”; shortened runs; and transmitters placed at the finish line designed to signal an onboard receiver to shut power to the engine if the driver is unable to do so themselves.

Inside the cockpits, the drivers are also required to wear several different safety devices.  Some of them actually came over from NASCAR including the fire suits, or “Simpson Suits”, and fuel cells to help prevent fuel leaks and explosions.

The NHRA also participates in a great non-profit organization called “B.R.A.K.E.S.” (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe).  Created by NHRA driver Doug Herbert after his teenage sons were killed in a traffic accident, its mission is to provide driving lessons to teenagers “by teaching young drivers more conscientious and confident skills behind the wheel”.

Diversity

No other pro sport comes close to the diverse range of athlete that NHRA does.

Out of 110 drivers:

  • 10 women
  • Ages range from 25 to 82 years old
  • 1 African-American (Last year, Antron Brown became the first African-American NHRA world champ and the first African-American driver to win a major U.S. auto racing championship title.)

Fun!

So, if you love motor sports like I do, and you’ve never attended an NHRA event live in person, well you’re missing a real treat.

Just make sure to bring your earplugs… 

 

Schedule: http://www.nhra.com/schedules/2013fts.aspx

Experience it now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=CEnaEi739Wc

For more info on how a Top Fuel Dragster works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=-VF0JwxQqcA

 

 

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