As of the end of the 2008 season, as a spectator, I have attended seventy-four(74) NHRA national championship events. I've also raced both big-block gas dragsters (injected, then blown - University of Texas student days) and blown alcohol dragsters since moving to Florida 10 years ago - which has basically been screwing around reliving my young, once and a while, after attending Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School at Gainesville. This decade, Ive attended NHRA championship drag racing at Gainesville, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Pomona, and Memphis.
The 1st-2nd quarter 2009 NHRA events I/we are attending include:
Mar 06-08: 51st Annual March Meet, Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, CA (NHRA Nostalgia Drag Racing)
Mar 13-15: 40th Annual ACDelco Gatornationals, Gainesville, FL
Mar 27-29: 22nd Annual OReilly Spring Nationals, Houston. TX
We usually attend one or two NHRA events in the Fall, but I dont know my 3rd-4th quarter racing attendance schedule until early summer. I would like to attend the NHRA Nationals at the new zMAX Dragway at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, NC (northeast of Charlotte). Interesting concept that Speedway Motorsports chairman Bruton Smith had two identical drag strips built side-by-side.
I have attended NHRA professional drag racing since the age of 10, when my father took me to a match racing event between Don The Snake Prudhomme(NHRA 3rd greatest)
, Tom The Mongoo$e McEwen(16th greatest)
, and Ed The Ace McCulloch(19th greatest)
. Tom and Ed were wild and funny guys along with the ultimate "Cali cool". I have several great stories from my cigar smoking father and I hanging out in the pits with them between races. Don was Don, what can I say. God love him, Snake has never been Mr. Personality but he has his moments *lol*. And, I have always greatly admired Don because of his no BS, no candy-ass attitude. With this all-stars introduction to nitro drag racing Ive been seriously hooked ever since.
If you didnt live in southern California, Texas was the second best place to live to see the NHRA racing legends. Many of them frequently raced here because ticket sales and crowds were good for racing events. Plus, a number of NHRA super-legends lived and based their racing operations out of Texas. For example, both nitro Funny Car legends Kenny Bernstein and Raymond Beadle lived and based their drag racing operations out of Dallas. Legendary NHRA Pro Stock World Champion(1981,82,83,84) Lee Shepherd(RIP) was based out of Arlington. In my book, Lee was "The Man" and his track death in 1985 really shook me up. Very bad testing accident and he was killed instantly. Then there was the legendary Eddie Hill, based out of Wichita Falls, who not only was a great dragster driver/innovator but the greatest nitro hydroplane drag boat driver in the history of the sport. Several of Eddie's drag boat records, set in the 1980's, will probably never be broken. These are just a few examples of Texas drag racing greats that I really liked. Texas was a drag racing hotbed back when I was young and it still is today. How could us young Texans go wrong? It was all about barbeque and/or Mexican food, chasing pretty girls, racing our own cars and dragsters on the weekends, and going to the drag strips when the NHRA "Top Guns" rolled into town.
When I get some time, maybe this Summer or Fall, I will try to write more about my early drag racing days, learning how to build injected and blown(supercharged) drag racing engines, and I will try to find some of my old "The Kid"(I've always looked much younger than my age) drag racing photos to posts. I would look forward to reading your personal drag racing posts about your experiences, be it attending races, actual drag racing, or whatever you feel like posting.
Basically, it was a fluke how I got into drag race driving. At the age of sixteen, I was a bank drive-in teller and one of my regular customers drove up to the window pulling a nitro hydroplane drag boat. I was shocked because this good looking, well dressed, middle-age man looked and acted like a doctor or lawyer. I asked him if that was his boat, he said yes, and gave me tickets to the races that weekend. Bill("JW") owned both a nitro drag boat and two dirt sprint cars teams. He financed the racing operations, and built the engines, but didnt do the driving. Even when I was young my primary emphasis in drag racing was, and still is, engine and racing technology. In high school, a group of us rebuilt donated cars and sold them to finance our drag racing. I enjoyed rebuilding the engines with my friend. His father was a great engine mechanic and taught us how to do it. Besides, anything was better that slaving away doing body work, *lol*. The more I got into drag racing, the more I wanted to understand/adapt the technology to make my cars go faster in the quarter-mile. Meeting JW was a perfect deal for me.
Over the next two years, JW would let me hang around his racing shop, where I was always asking questions and wanting to understand, and he put me to work helping build racing engines. When I graduated high school he talked me into learning how to drive a dragster, because I complained how boring modified street car drag strip racing was. Further, University of Texas was a hotbed of drag racing activity which is were I earned my undergraduate business degree and then my law degree. I ended up racing both big-block injected and then later blown gas dragsters during my UT undergraduate years and was totally addicted.
During my senior year, my father(4th generation attorney) put the fear of God into me as to how hard UT's School of Law was, and I would never make it through and graduate, if I didn't stop my large amount of time/investment spent drag racing and engine building. I was also worried about attending law school. So, I basically stopped my drag racing activities at the end of summer after I graduated. I really hated having to quit because I had a new big block Keith Black engine, with an 8-71 blower, and some first class hardware inside. The first of the summer, JW's nitro drag boat driver got hurt pretty bad in a crash. He decided not to race the rest of the season so he could spend all his time on his sprint cars operation while his driver fully recovered. We took one of his nitro engines and rebuilt it into a "tamer beast" that ran on racing gas or methanol. He was honest about it and hoped the new "mountain motor" would change my mind about quitting drag racing at the end of the summer. I loved that engine but was worried about being a bum like some of my drag racing UT fraternity brothers that it took them 6-7 years to get their undergraduate degrees, if they didn't drop out of school. I figured that after I graduated law school I could start drag racing again. Without question, drag racing is the most addictive thing I have ever done in my entire life.
Well. . . it never happened. After law school, and moving back to Houston, I got sucked up in the attorney, politics, marriage, wealth building, and making the parent's proud "game". It wasn't until I moved to Florida ten years ago, and restructured a number of personal matters, that I finally got my life back. Now if I could retire from any involvement in GOP politics
NHRA Top 20 Greatest Drivers - Nitro Only
* Legendary nitro drivers I have watched race at NHRA events over the last three+ decades.
01. Don Garlits *
02. John Force *
03. Don Prudhomme *
05. Shirley Muldowney *
06. Kenny Bernstein *
09. Joe Amato *
10. Dale Armstrong (1)
11. Mickey Thompson
14. Eddie Hill *
16. Tom McEwen *
17. Jim Liberman (Jungle Jim died too young)
19. Ed McCulloch *
20. Raymond Beadle *
(1) I watched Dale many times, in the pits, when he was Kenny Bernstein's legendary crew chief. Still today, when Dale speaks everyone listens.
One More Thing:
In addition to NHRA, my whole life I've been a major NASCAR fan and have attended many races. While I will attend five 2009 NASCAR supertrack races at Daytona and Talladega, I currently prefer NHRA championship drag racing. NHRA is like NASCAR was in the mid-late 90s. We still have a number of super-legends and old bulls heavily involved in the sports. For example, two of the three guys that got me hooked on NHRA drag racing, 30+ years ago, being Don Prudhomme(Team Owner) and Ed McCulloch(Co-Team Owner/Crew Chief), are still at the track for almost every NHRA championship race. Further, the overall professionalism of NHRA drivers is superior to NASCAR drivers. You dont see the public adolescent and unprofessional media behavior by NHRA drivers like you do with a number of NASCAR drivers. There are very few NHRA championship drivers that I personally dont hold in high regard. This is more than I can say for some of the current NASCAR drivers. Sorry, Im an old school type of racing guy and was born with this attitude.
All I care about is responsible heads-up racing without all the sideshow yap and over-commercialization. I have no tolerance for the obvious soap opera agenda that NASCAR brass allows just to keep the sport in front of the main stream media. Same goes for NASCARs tolerated increase in wrecks, particular towards the end of races. Some of the recent NASCAR races I have attended were more like a Demolition Derby. For serious racing fans it gets very old. These are the primary reasons that, several years ago, I stopped following NASCAR even though I annually attend races at the two supertracks, which to-date Ive attended twenty-four races. Another reason I prefer NHRA is that, unlike NASCAR, we have women drivers and they are very impressive.