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In Drag Racing, You Don’t Hear Horsepower…You Feel Horsepower

How to describe NHRA...it's simply adrenaline in your soul, pulsing through the body.

One thing about any individual that is a gear head is that they all want more.  More torque, more height, more sound, and especially more horsepower.  Just something about horsepower makes people want to find a way to make more, whether bigger pistons, better rockers, larger heads, or stroking the crankshaft, it’s all about finding more power.

Look at the evolution of NASCAR, going from stock engines to the technological advances in their engines, and cars.

But, no series or form of competition can hold a candle to the way horsepower has advanced than that in the world of the National Hot Rod Association.

From the early days of the Ford Roaster, to the fuel-altered gas cars that would pull a wheelstand on the line, to the debuts of the rear-engine dragsters all the way to the machines today that can go 1000 feet in just under four seconds, the name of the game for the NHRA is to go the fastest from the starting line up through the finish line beam.

Over the weekend, the opportunity came to get that first experience at an NHRA event.

Knowing that this would be an initiation of sorts, the “Baptism by Nitro” as it’s called, it was good that the first few classes down the sticky track were loud but not to the point of blowing out ear drums.  Hearing the pro modified cars head down the track, and the factory altered machines, certainly prepared everyone for what was coming.  The heat of the day kept the track sticky, also making it challenging for crews in trying to tune the cars.

No classes were immune to the heat, but none more than the two fastest classes in all of racing.  The top fuel funny cars and dragsters had to find the line of being able to grip the track, but also not causing fuel to not burn.

Once the engines in the nitro classes fired up, the ear plugs went in.

Even just in burnouts, the noise is unmistakable.  the tires on the back spin, building smoke, and growing in size.  As the car backs into the starting lane, crew members do final adjustments, and a pair quickly try to get as much water off the tires as possible, ensuring the grip is at the max.

Then, once in the staging beams, mere moments mean the difference between a great launch, or being a hair too early.

That immediate hit of the throttle, even with seats halfway down the track, it is a rush.

I’ve stood beside a stock car when it’s warming up, watched a run on the dyno with a turbo screaming loud, and even got to ride in a monster truck that was by all points a true race truck that had a pair of seats for riders.  By comparison, those were all tame since over the years, the experiences have built up a tolerance.  However, nothing can come close to the feeling of once a nitro dragster or funny car head full speed down the drag strip.

It’s not just your ears hearing the sheer power of these engines, but the entire body feels it.  Over 10,000 horsepower going down a track in under four seconds, at 300+ MPH.  It shakes every bone in your body in an instant.  The intensity and after effects remain even after the parachutes are deployed to slow these beasts down.

You don’t listen to an NHRA race, at least when it comes to the top fuel categories, because you can’t.  It’s impossible.

Instead, you FEEL a race.

That first feeling when those 10,000-horsepower machines go by is the moment you realize that nothing matches on any level that feeling.  Some call it a bucket list experience, but the reality is this is a bucket list of emotions.  The anxiety one feels knowing it’s the first time hearing the engines fire on the line, the anticipation of the burnout and the stage.  It’s the anxiety of knowing that the drivers have the control of going into the staging beam, not knowing when the starter will hit the trigger to light the staging tree.

All that anxiety erases because then you are hit with the absolute power, watching two cars scream down the track, flames out each side of the headers as the nitro fuel burns.  The shock is seen on the facial expressions, and felt from the skin all the way to the bone.

That’s just when on track, as the ability to go into the pits, see the teams actually work on the cars during the turnaround time between rounds is an art in itself.  Crews tearing apart the entire piece, body removal to a complete rebuild of the engine, and hearing the teams warm up the car to prepare for their next elimination round, it’s a true science.

Nothing compares to this experience, and that is coming from a writer who has rode in a monster truck that is capable of racing, with Dennis Anderson at the wheel.

Without question, a return trip will be coming.  Will it be at Summit Motorsports Park…maybe.  Could it be at one of the two most intense NHRA events of the season?

Perhaps, which means it’s a trip to a different track that’s part of the Charlotte Motor Speedway complex, the place where NHRA years prior decided to try something that no one had seen except on the Fast and Furious series.  Picture seeing a top fuel dragster, or funny car, pull into the staging lane and then another pull up to their right…then another…and another.

The 4-Wide Nationals are unlike any NHRA event, except for Las Vegas where the first visit does the same style.  One hit of the throttle, and 40,000 horsepower comes to life across four lanes.

With the event already done for this season, the 2024 version will be the one to watch.

For those that have yet to experience, or feel, this type of power and racing, it is a must to make it to one.  It hits your soul so hard that the comparison to any other motorsport is moot.  The feeling, the adrenaline, the absolute power, it’s unmatched.

Take that chance and head to the drag strip, and get baptized by nitro.

About Dustin Parks