Top Fuel license in hand, 19-year-old Cody Krohn has big plans
The 2023 season of NHRA Drag Racing has only just begun, but for Cody Krohn, this year has already been unforgettable. In February, at just 18 years of age, Krohn earned a license to race Top Fuel in NHRA, and less than a month later, he reached his first final round in Top Alcohol Dragster in only his second race. Krohn has ambitious plans, but with a career that started early and has been full-bore ever since, he isn't short on experience.
His family originally hails from the Chicago area, but Krohn grew up in the Florida sun, just south of Sarasota. All of that sunshine — and the family's close proximity to Bradenton Motorsports Park — positioned Krohn in a veritable vortex of drag racing. Of course, it was also in his blood. His dad, Rich, raced in the late 1980s and early 90s, and by the age of 8, Krohn was caught up in it as well.
"It started as a suggestion," recalled the younger Krohn. "Me and my dad went to Bradenton to watch, and he was like, 'Is this something you'd be interested in?' When you're 7 years old, who doesn't want to go out and drive a race car? So, he built me a Jr. Dragster, and it's been a career for me ever since. There were no other sports, no extra-curriculars. All of my free time has been dedicated to racing."
For such a young gentleman, Krohn has had an array of experience behind the wheel. It started after he retired from Jr. drag racing at the age of 14, and he and his father began building a nostalgia blown alcohol car.
"When I turned 16, it was like, OK — now it's go-time," said Krohn. "In the matter of a year, I got my Super Comp license, then Nostalgia Top Fuel, Top Alcohol Dragster, and Nostalgia Funny Car, Top Alcohol Funny Car. That gave me the opportunity to race a little more, attend a few events, and get more seat time. That was always the goal. We knew we were going to go up, we just had to figure out how."
Reaching for the highest tier of NHRA Drag Racing is wishing to exist in another world. The planet of Top Fuel entices a rare breed of humans, ones magnetically drawn to an obscene amount of adrenaline reserved for those willing to stand toe to toe with fear for a full 1,000 feet. Krohn feels that his approach off-track, though slightly different from many, gives him something of an advantage.
"I think the thing that sets us apart from a lot of others is that when we get back to the pit area, I take off all my driving stuff and put it on the fan to dry out," explained Krohn. "I put on my 'slop-clothes' and get on the ground to work on the bottom end. I never want to be the driver that just drives. The nostalgia car gave me a lot of time to learn every inch of that car and motor; I could put it together if it was in a million pieces. I think it's super important to know what you're driving, and to build a respect for it and a connection with it. When you have that relationship, it goes from being just a car to almost being your friend. You're in it together."
Last year, Krohn, a Jr. Dragster champion in 2012, celebrated his 10th anniversary as a drag racer by claiming the 6.0 eliminator trophy at the NHRA Holley National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky., in his family's A/Fuel front-engine dragster. This year, on the weekend of his 19th birthday, Krohn stepped into the Top Alcohol Dragster owned by the Samsel family at the NHRA Division 4 race at No Problem Raceway in Belle Rose, La., to begin his first serious foray into NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competition.
He was No. 3 on the qualifying sheet out of 19 cars to prove he had something worthy of showing, and just one week after his season debut, Krohn raced that same rail all the way to the final round at the famed "Baby Gators" Lucas Oil event at Gainesville Raceway, where he was runner-up to Julie Nataas.
A final-round appearance at one of the most anticipated and revered Lucas Oil races on the schedule might have been a season highlight for some, but for Krohn, it was second to an event that happened there in Gainesville several weeks prior.
Krohn earned his NHRA Top Fuel license in former champion Larry Dixon's car under the direction of Frank Hawley just days before turning 19. He made four passes and gained bushels of experience in a very short and powerful window of time.
"That experience held a little bit of every emotion you can imagine," he said. "All I'd driven before was [a nostalgia car], 3-speed with a clutch, and a lot of driving involved. The whole driving aspect is a lot different, but the biggest change is the force, as anyone would expect. I spent so much time mentally preparing that 'this thing is going to feel like a rocket ship when it takes off,' but even that couldn't describe the feeling. It's such a surreal experience. It was scary at first, but by the second run, I kind of had an idea what to expect. It was like, 'oh my gosh, I'm doing this.' It was pure bliss, at that point."
Top Fuel is, well, the top. It's the biggest dream in NHRA, but from the very beginning, Krohn's family has supported a vision that many consider impossible. Mom Luci and dad Rich are always by his side at the racetrack, and sister Katie — former fellow Jr. racer and the team's designated weather girl — supports from afar as she is pursuing a degree in environmental science at the University of Alabama.
As the family works to find funding for their Top Fuel campaign, Krohn will continue to claim Top Alcohol Dragster points in the North Central Division, where his father raced in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car so many years before. They are also on task to begin their national event journey at the upcoming Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
"My dad is a crazy hard worker," said Krohn. "I'm convinced he could be successful at anything he wanted, because he wakes up every day with the drive to get things done. He doesn't worry about how or why; he just gets things done. I'm hoping that's influenced me some. It's difficult to be good at so many things, but everything he does, he does well. That's amazing to me."
Krohn's vision doesn't stop with simply driving an 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster. Though barely in the door in the world of Top Fuel, Krohn already knows where he intends to go.
"When I plan it all out, the future for me is, eventually, having a Top Fuel team that I own and run," said Krohn. "But the near-future includes going Top Fuel racing competitively and trying to make a name for myself and my family. In the perfect world, we find a way to do this for a living. That's what we really want."