View our various guides to auto racing, where we explore different types of motor sport that aren’t in the spotlight as often as NASCAR or Formula One.
Ron Capps and Antron Brown seem to be streaks ahead of the pack at this relatively early stage in the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Racing Series. Both drivers have dominated their respective fields during the first two events of the season and have also started to build a rather impressive points lead in the Full Throttle standings.
Ron Capps may have endured a rather dismal 2008 season, but he managed to catch up somewhat at the end. This year he seems to have picked up where he left off. His explosion into the limelight this year started when he won the Funny Car season opener at Pomona in California. His most recent victory took place at the Firebird International Raceway on Sunday when he captured his second straight Funny Car title in the young campaign by beating Robert Hight and Del Worsham in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist Nationals. Not only did he win, but he managed to gain an impressive 97 point lead over fellow competitors. Commenting on his most recent victories, Capps told reporters: “I’m living a dream right now.” He also commented on his recent experiences behind the wheel, saying: “It’s like a really good cook learning how to cook again completely differently. The car is just so different to run, to feel, and it puts me in the trunk at half track. It’s so much fun to drive and when the win light comes on, it’s even better.” No doubt fans can expect to see more from Capps in upcoming races.
Brown began his 2009 Top Fuel season with a No.1 qualifier and a runner-up finish during the Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals held at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. He followed it up with his most recent performance in Phoenix which saw him take the lead over two-time event winner Brandon Bernstein to take the checkered flag. The win also boosted him to the lead in the Top Fuel standings. Speaking about his victory, Brown said: “This just shows how strong our team really is here at Mike Ashley Racing. With all the adversity we dealt with this off season, this is just an awesome feeling.” Brown and Capps were joined by Jeg Coughlin who won in Pro Stock at the recent 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Racing Series event.
When Doug Kalitta won the NHRA Top Fuel opener in Pomona on Tuesday, it was a rather emotional victory for him. Not only was the race physically and mentally draining due to the large amounts of rain which plagued the track, but this was the first time that Kalitta won since losing his teammate and cousin Scott Kalitta last June in a tragic racing accident.
The dramatic circumstances surrounding Doug Kalitta’s victory only added to the overall drama and excitement of the race. Kalitta took a clean victory, defeating Antron Brown at 3.822 seconds to Brown’s 3.847 seconds. The event had already been running for six days – having been drawn out an extra two days by the rain which prolonged eliminations. During the course of the race Kalitta managed to defeat Urs Erbacher, Morgan Lucas and Cory McClenathan and fourteen of the other sixteen cars in the field. On the final round of the race it was between him and Antron Brown, with Kalitta clutching the victory just seconds ahead of his opponent. Kalitta was ecstatic. It was the 31st Top Fuel event win for the driver, putting an end to a 27-race winless streak since his cousin’s accident. The win no doubt also put an end to the concerns of his family-run team, which is headed by his uncle and father.
The NHRA Top Fuel victory was particularly emotional and even fans could empathize as Doug’s father Connie came running into the winner’s circle to share his son’s special moment. Speaking about the race afterwards, Kalitta said: “I think of Scott when I’m in the car. It motivates me to get up on the wheel. Winning this race is special. Connie won here and Scott won here. In fact, this is the car that Scott drove to the win here in 2005. I’m sure he’s proud of the fact that all three of us have won here now.” Doug Kalitta added: “It was also special that Connie was in the winner’s circle with us. I’m just happy he still enjoys this. This is his 50th anniversary in drag racing and it would be great to give him a big year.”
The acronym NHRA stands for National Hot Rod Association, the governing body for drag racing in the USA that both establishes regulations and organizes events across the country. The NHRA also seeks to promote drag racing and increase the sport’s popularity with fans while retaining sponsors for events and participants.
Founded in 1951 in California by Wally Parks, the NHRA saw as its prime mandate the need to get Hot Rodders off the streets and onto legal drag strips where safety for both racers and the general public could be ensured. Today, the NHRA is the largest drag racing authority in the world, with 300 employees, 80,000 members and 35,000 licensed competitors. The NHRA has over 140 member tracks throughout North America.
The most prestigious NHRA drag racing event in North America is the U.S. Nationals that are held bi-annually in summer and winter. This popular drag racing competition is held at the Indianapolis Raceway Park, home of the legendary Indy 500. The NHRA also stages the PowerAde Drag Racing Series. This series is made up of four classes: Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Top Fuel Dragster and Top Fuel Funny Car. Other sportsman classes are held for amateur, or “Sunday” racers, who would like to compete.
The NHRA supports many special educational initiatives such as the Youth and Education Services program and the Street Legal program. NHRA events attract thousands of loyal fans, and members are enthusiastic about their chosen sport. Schedules for upcoming NHRA events can be found in newspapers, racing magazines and online.
When most people think of drag racing, Top Fuel dragsters are what commonly come to mind. With their huge rear tires, long bodies, spindly front wheels and flame-belching engines, Top Fuel drag racing is one of the most distinctive types of auto racing. Both NHRA sanctioned Top Fuel categories feature cars that exceed 325 miles per hour and can run the quarter mile in under 5 seconds. Now that’s fast! These awesome dragsters are fueled with a potent mixture of 85% Nitro methane and 15% Methanol.
In practice, pairs of drag racers compete against each other to cover a set distance in the briefest amount of time. The track on which the race takes place is straight and level. The distances covered are usually a quarter mile or an eighth of a mile. The race begins from a stationary positionl and thus requires very powerful engines to cover that short distance in the fastest time. The start is crucial, as a mere split second delay is often enough to lose a close race. Both drivers stare intently as yellow lights flash on a “Christmas Tree”, down to the very last pair that are green. When the green lights flash, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal. The cars shoot down the track as if they were launched from catapults, often releasing a parachute to help them brake once they cross the finish line.
There are approximately 325 drag strips operating throughout the world at any given time. Associations such as the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) and the NHRA in the United States have been set up to monitor the sport. Professional drag racing has safety standards, rules and regulations that apply equally to all participants to keep things fair and to promote good sportsmanship.
Drag racing has always been a colorful sport, and that doesn’t just apply to the “Fuelies” and Funny Cars. Drivers with larger than life personalities have dominated the sport and become legends in their own time. Don “Big Daddy” Garlits and Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney are two of the most famous Top Fuel dragster drivers of all time, while the names of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and 13-time champion John Force are synonymous with the sport of Funny Car racing.