Thursday, July 10, 2014

Passing The Smoky Torch

Drag racing in 2014: the same as drag racing in 1984, or 1964...

A friend took his about-to-get-her-license daughter to the drag races.  She loved it.  Jet-powered  cars, squirrely Fuel Altereds, waves of sound that assault not only your ears but your torso. He himself hasn't been to the drags since he was a teenager.  He reports that the only change is that spectators are endlessly "connected" on their smart phones and tablets.  I wonder if those AM radio ads still run like they did 50 years ago: "Sunday... Sunday... SUNDAY!!!"

When I was about my friend's daughter's age, my Mother talked my Dad into taking me to the drags. She had noticed  my gearhead disease, and thought it would be a good father-son outing.  This wasn't an easy sell.  My Dad's favorite sport was home and yard maintenance.  His favorite spectator sport was NFL football.  He was a terrible, bored-stiff, golfer; a piece of his sports universe that I did inherit.  He didn't say so, but I knew what he was thinking: "Watching drag races is like watching paint dry, and the noise give me a headache."

Kris Karamesines, "The Crazy Greek," did demonstration runs in his AA/Fuel dragster.  He made a half-dozen passes in the mid-7 second E.T. / 170+ m.p.h. range.  Top-of-the-tree pace for the top class in those days.  I was hooked and spent the rest of my high school summers at the drag strip.

The high point of my drag racing spectating: Kris Karamesines's "Top Fuel" dragster.

As a 20-something, I drag raced my Datsun 510 twice.  The futility of drag racing a 1.6 liter car is exceeded only by the hilarity it provides for the fans in the stands and its insanity (the car was my daily driver).  This was the end of competitive motorsports for me until I was able to do high-speed autocross on road courses 30 years later.

The low point of my drag racing participation: time slips for my Datsun 510.  Notes I made on the back of the slips
say the fast pass was made with the air cleaner and exhaust pipe disconnected, dropping the clutch at 4000 r.p.m.
On the slow pass the car was in normal trim, I was asleep at the Christmas Tree, and "drove it out of the hole" like
a sensible person.  An official's note on the red light pass says "OK for trophy."  I didn't pick it up.  How do you
explain a trophy on your shelf, even though you red-lighted, being awarded because you were the only car in
your class?  You don't: you leave the trophy at the track.

These were the alpha and omega of my drag racing days, although I have fond memories of watching Super Stocks and Gassers.  I switched to hanging on the fence at sports car races.  Then I was transferred by my employer to Minnesota, a.k.a. The Great Car Racing Desert.  My involvement in motorsports didn't resume until I was again transferred to Chicagoland, a.k.a. Amateur Road Racing Heaven.

So I pass the smoky burnout torch to my friend's teenaged daughter, with fond memories of my quarter mile days.  May she spend many happy hours in the stands and prowling the paddock.  Or, if the bug bites her really hard, dropping the hammer just before the green light comes on.  The drags could provide her with a lifetime of fun, 1/4 mile at a time.  Or her Dad could let her make a couple of Tail of the Dragon passes, and ruin drag racing for her.  ;-)

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