Last week’s introduction of the amazing 840-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon should permanently put to rest the notion that the U.S. is no longer a car culture. The launch of the Demon was covered far and wide by major media outlets worldwide, and that matters because the Demon is little more than a thinly disguised race car that also happens to be street legal.
Nearly a half-century after the whole “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” philosophy helped drive car enthusiasts to both dragstrips and dealerships, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) elected to spend untold millions designing, developing, and building a car that’s sole purpose is to dominate the competition on the nation’s dragstrips. Much has been made of the Demon’s special features, including a factory-installed transmission brake and line-lic: two components that are pretty much exclusive to standing-start acceleration contests. You aren’t going to see a Dodge Demon cutting corners on your local road course, but there’s a good chance that one of the 3,000 or so supercars being built will make an appearance this summer at your local NHRA member track.
The launch of the Demon speaks volumes for the popularity and the relevance of drag racing in American culture and the fact that there are still a large number of performance enthusiasts out there. Obviously, not everyone has the means to land one of the street-legal, nine-second Demons but the beauty of drag racing is that you don’t need a six-figure investment to be able to enjoy the sport. That was true in the sport’s formative years, and it's true today. In 1970, only a chosen few could afford to get their hands on a Hemi ’Cuda or an LS6 Chevelle. The rest of us, for the most part, made due with whatever we could get our hands on, whether it was a small-block Nova or perhaps even the original 1970s Dodge Demon, an affordable alternative to the pricey big-block cars of the era.
When it comes to modern muscle, it’s still very possible to get into a slightly used Challenger, Mustang, or Camaro or a wide variety of other performance cars for a reasonable sum. Given the advancements in technology and the availability of aftermarket parts, it’s not hard or cost prohibitive to buy or build a fun weekend racer or bracket car that’s capable of double-the-highway speed limit.
There are currently more than 120 NHRA member tracks scattered across North America, and nearly all of them have a program designed for novice racers, whether it’s a test and tune, grudge night, or a beginner bracket class. The point here is that there are many ways to fulfill the need for speed and many viable alternatives to street racing.
Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis hosts its popular Wild Wednesday program almost every week from April through October. The format of the event is simple: open time trial runs from 5:30 p.m. to approximately 10:30 p.m. All cars must pass the standard NHRA technical inspection, and all drivers need to be licensed, but that’s about it. There should not be an intimidation factor, even for first-time racers.
Not surprisingly, the Wild Wednesday program is a big hit with the locals in the Indianapolis area. The event regularly draws 150-175 participants, and the majority of them are street-legal vehicles that are driven to the track. Wild Wednesday attracts just about everything from old and new muscle cars, imports, motorcycles, Jr. Dragsters, and a handful of weekly bracket racers. Each week, the top-five performers in the Wild Wednesday event are recognized with a commemorative decal, which serves as sort of a badge of honor among participants. Since Lucas Oil Raceway is also a short drive from Brownsburg, Ind., which is the headquarters to many NHRA Professional teams, it’s not uncommon to see top level NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pros, including Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, and Andrew Hines having fun on their off-weekends.
The point here is that NHRA Drag Racing is an incredible sport when viewed as a spectator, but it takes on a whole new dimension when experienced as a participant. Even in a totally stock street car, there is something about pulling into the stage beams that brings out the competitor in all of us, and there are few things more rewarding than a time slip that reflects a personal best, whether it is an elapsed time, top speed, or a starting-line reaction. Thankfully, there are few, if any, forms of motorsports that require less effort and expense to become an active participant.
So, what are you waiting for?