Drag Racing? Yes!!! - Amalie Oil NHRA Gator National in Gainesville
Ulrich Kniep, April 2, 2018
Drag racing. At the Amalie Oil NHRA Gator National in Gainesville, Florida this past Friday. I had to see this. Experience a different kind of competition with 10000 horse power monsters shooting straight down a ¼ mile track reaching speeds of 330 miles in less than 3.5 sec and motor bikes accelerating to over 200 miles. Smoke billowing up and throughout as noise-deafening blasts erupt at each start. Where was I again? Ah, yes, drag racing.
Entries of more than 400 participants in up to 15 different classes and several hundred thousand spectators over a weekend that was all action. The staging area where the team’s line up to be next for their practice run is like a four- lane highway. Continuous movement of high-powered machinery, mechanics taking their place in adrenaline-charged anticipation as they move the cars to the grid in sets of two.
Lined up in parallel lanes with an electronic “Christmas tree” starting device between the lanes, blinking in synchronized motion to beckon the start of the action, drivers intersecting the infrared beams on the starting line approach. A switch is flipped when all four lights are lit and like a “Christmas tree” lights blink down the tree at specific intervals until there are three amber lights and then- the green for ‘Go.” Red light? Disqualified for an early start. Only minutes between the engine fire-ups and the tire burn-out at starting position to heat the tires and provide more traction, wheels spinning at a standstill until the very moment they jump into a power-driven sprint to the end.
And, then the noise. When a Top Fuel Car or Nitro Dragster shoots away from its starting position, ten- foot flames shoot out the exhaust and a bellowing of ear-splitting power physically shakes the ground. The draft pushes you back five feet and if not prepared throws you to the ground. A 10000 horsepower vehicle is a missile, nothing less in reaching top speed within 3.5 seconds. Drivers in the top classes experience up to five G-forces (five times their body weight) when hurling down the course. Ear plugs provide some relief, but nothing can prepare one for this- especially with a press pass down on the track covering the cars up-close.
I watch a hundred runs or so alternating between walking to the garage area and back to the track. I watch with amazement as mechanics replace pistons and whole engines after each run in what seems like minutes. There is a sense of familiarity between the teams, sharing information and parts as much as possible without giving away their secrets. This is not just a bunch of guys getting together to race on weekends, these are professional high -level sponsored teams with male and female drivers (“pilots” not drivers) doing something insane.
This won’t be my last visit to a drag race. I’ve seen some fast race cars in my life reach top speeds of 230 miles on a long stretch of road, but powering to over 300 plus miles in three seconds on a ¼ mile track is an entirely different experience. Now I had miles to go as I left the drag racing world for the trip to Florida and the 12 hours of Sebring. My true passion.