Saturday, January 29, 2011

Daily Report: Day At The Races

Today it was off to Bradenton Motorsports Park to watch that most American of sports, drag racing... eighth of a mile no less. Well, maybe monster truck racing or tractor pulls would be more uniquely American motorsports, but there aren't too many other countries on earth who have large portions of their population that think it's a fantastic idea to put a 2,000 horsepower engine into a car with no suspension, questionable aerodynamics, no brakes worth mentioning, and only minimal steering, and then use it to race only 660 feet at a time.

The engines really are just outrageous: Their displacement are well over 800 cubic inches. We're talking 14 liter engines firing a car to over 180 miles per hour (300 kph) in just 660 feet (200 meters)! The cars are gorgeous to look at and awe-inspiring to watch in action. Hearing them though: The noise these dragsters make when they go is ear splitting... rock concert loud. Watch the folks behind the car in the video below plug their ears:

(And these aren't even considered the "top of the line" dragsters here: Their bigger and more powerful "Top Fuel" brothers that hit 330 miles per hour (530 kph) in the qurter mile (400 meters) are substantially louder. They weren't racing today.)

There were several different categories of dragsters. I was equally impressed with the "Import" category. Check out this little 4-cylinder sedan go from 0 to 150 miles per hour (250 kph) in just under 5 seconds.

Walking around the pit area, it quickly became obvious that the people who race dragsters are 2 things: First is rich, and second is mechanically minded and mechanically employed. I talked with one dragster owner who runs several automotive shops in the midwest, standing in front of his quarter-million dollar motorhome, matching tractor trailer, matching golf cart, and (obviously) matching dragster. "Did this," I asked, pointing at the beautiful burgundy dragster that started life as a Camaro, "pay for all of this?" I pointed to the motor home and the rest of it. "Oh hell no," he replied. "This car doesn't even win enough money to pay for the tires we use up every weekend." Quite true: Uncle Bob told me that the winning purse for each category of racing is only $5,000. Obviously people do this for real love of the sport more than to make any money.

Overall it was a friendly crowd at the races... surprisingly multiracial as well. (Yes: I expected a rather homogenous makeup to the crowd and participants, and that was decidedly not the case.) I did find it a little bit "us and them" though: When the "import" cars came on, the race venue changed announcers to a fellow who spoke only Spanish. Obviously the drivers of the Japanese dragsters trended towards a specific ethnic group... but excluding the English-only folks from the commentary didn't seem necessary.

It was a fascinating day, but I don't think I'd go again though. It was fun once, but unless I'm going to get behind the wheel of my own dragster and get involved in the game itself, I can't see spending the $25 entry fee to sit on hard bleachers in the Florida sun and inhale burning rubber for a second opportunity to watch these admittedly incredible machines.


Anonymous said...

funny cars travel 1/4 mile in 4 1/2 seconds.r u sure they aren't on a 1/4 mile track?1/8 mile would yield a 3 second race,do not blink or you will miss the action,get a headache for nothing.

Jungle Jil said...

Yes... this was definitely an 1/8 mile race. The little 4-banger did the 1/8 mile race in 4.75 seconds. That would translate into about a 7 or 7.5 second quarter mile, I imagine.

The fastest car of the day was 3.98 seconds at 190 mph. You figure that in a quarter mile, the last 660 feet — going from 190 to 290 mph — would have taken another 1.75 seconds, and you would have had a time in the 5.75-second range... which is about what would be expected for a quarter mile.

Additionally, they said it was 1/8 mile several times. Also, they had "target races", where cars had to try to get as close to 6.5 seconds as they could... and they were mostly street rodders and pro-street style racers in that category.