“People involve themselves in different aspects of the sport because they fit correctly in them.” As the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season moves from its genteel start and gradually accelerates itself to the hectic months from late spring through the summer, this seemed like an appropriate time to recognize one of the most important traits that any successful drag racer, Sportsman or Professional can have. That trait is relentlessness. This is a sport that requires not only constant movement on the track but also constant movement on the road, with your tools, your pocketbook, and, in many cases, even your heart. We’ll get into all that in a second, but if you are reading this as a hopeful person who will someday be driving or wrenching in drag racing at a high level, pay close attention.
There is more drag racing happening today and more exposure to it than ever before. Between weekly programs at local tracks, high profile high-paying sportsman races, match racing of various shapes and sizes, “outlaw” door slammer events, small tire and drag radial races, and stuff like Jr. Dragster meets, you can literally pick what style of racing you like and have at it no matter where you live. Much of what we have today did not exist 40 to 50 years ago. The major classes did, but the layers and layers of class options and styles of competition are all part of the evolution of the sport.
While people certainly have their favorites and every genre has its own personality, they all share the common bond of being linked by people who are applying themselves day in and day out to win. These are the people who will get out of work on Thursday, drive all night to get to a race that starts on Friday, work harder than they do at their occupation, and scream home all night on Sunday to make it to their job when the time clock says so on Monday morning. Time like competition is relentless, unwavering, and seemingly always waiting on your next move.
Social media has added a new dimension to this program. If anything it has more accurately shone the light on the relentlessness of drag racers because rather than just hearing the stories of the thrash or just getting a second-hand account, we can see it. We can follow the pain, suffering, and triumph, and we can participate on some level. It has opened the “racer lifestyle” up and exposed the reality that it is not a vacation; it really is a hustle on every level.
People tend to classify the relentless attitude drag racers have as something that pertains only to performance. They’ll argue that the performance improvements and ever quickening time slips are the visual proof of that attitude, and while I agree, there’s another step in the process that has to be recognized. The time slip is the end result of someone living in a dyno cell for months or working on new cylinder-head designs until their eyes bled and doing those things to the distraction of all else. Anyone who truly “lives the life” will tell you the same thing. It ain’t normal. It is a dream, it is awesome, but it is not normal. Dyno pulls or your son’s basketball game? A few more lines of code or that cookout with your neighbors? Know what usually wins? Not the cookouts. Trust me.
We sometimes get a painful or tough look at the relentless march of the sport. How many times over the years have we witnessed highly decorated racers and crew chiefs come out of retirement to assume the wheel or the wrench again only to have the hard realization that the unblinking eye of competition has passed them by. Things that used to work, approaches that had success in the past, and mentalities that won championships now seem quaint by the standards of a new day. Like the tides and the rise and fall of the sun, drag racing does not stop or delay itself for anyone, no matter how brilliant. It is like stepping back onto a treadmill that you have stood next to, but the entire time you have been off of it the speed’s been increasing, and you never quite catch up.
People involve themselves in different aspects of the sport because they fit correctly in them. The things that drive an announcer are not the same things that drive a tech inspector or an official in race control. But somewhere deep in the psyche of all of us are the triggers and the things that make us want to be the best at what we do. Whether that is driving a race car, designing a part, prepping a dragstrip for maximum traction, yelling about the results of a race, or crafting journalism after an event has finished, there are links the go far beyond the surface for all of us. Deep enough that there’s no way to accurately explain them here.
There are times when being involved in drag racing as a profession feels like riding on the back of a spooked wooly mammoth. It is constant movement, it is constant evolution, and, sometimes, it feels like you’re barely hanging on to survive. Then there are the bad days. Thankfully over the span of a couple decades, I can count those on one hand.
So, to the drag racers out there, the ones that bleed, cry, and work beyond all human measure to achieve their dreams: thank you. Your work, your relentlessness, and your commitment keeps affirming my belief that every race is filled with amazing people doing amazing things, no matter where I am.
It’s not the life for everybody, but I’m sure glad that it’s ours.