Odd as it may seem, there are occasional visitors to this site with no interest or knowledge of hot rodding or motorsports. Besides the usual FBI, IRS, FCC and CIA agents, some of my non-car friends like to drop in and browse, too. They claim to enjoy the SGE experience in general, but are baffled at some of the references and terminology bandied about, whether in proper nomenclature or street jive. Since drag racing is a common thread running through this blog and the hobby in general, here's a quick-start guide for the newcomer. It doubles as a humbler to you know-it-alls out there.
AS ALWAYS, CLICK ON IMAGES TO VIEW FULL SIZE.
BILATERAL TIMELINE STUDY:
In both disciplines, power-to-weight ratio dictated quickness and speed. Each camp naturally scattered into various sub-niches, but production-based door slammers and dedicated dragsters generally defined the opposing ends of drag racing's class structure and appeal. Fans could drive their commuter cars to glory in entry level classes, partner up with friends to enter a dragster in the sport's top class, or find their comfort zone in a vast middle ground. The fun, at every level, was accessible to all. The original intent of taking deadly street racing to a safe, legal, and controlled environment was beautifully realized and even produced a supporting culture that swept the nation. Uninterested citizens, passionate racers and race fans alike were well served, and the legalization of drag racing was deemed a successful experiment by all parties. America's prominent sanctioning body, then and now, was the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), founded and operated by Wallace Parks as a non-profit organisation.
Mind you, the above was written by a person perceived as a naive Pollyanna with an Opie Taylor enthusiasm for Forrest Gump providence. At least that's how I feel around my fellow motorsports journalists - cynics, one and all. I'm a sitting duck in that murky little pond. But even I can't help but feel anguish at what my beloved sport turned into, considering where it came from, the promise it held, and the glory it realized for a fleeting moment before it choked on its own greed and became a national embarrassment on par with philandering politicians and crooked investment bankers.
Bitter? You bet your ass I'm bitter - scorned by the one I loved and defended in the face of my own peer group. Worst of all, I still support her! I continue to worship at the altar of acceleration in person, read and write about it, even watch it on TV - desperately hoping to glimpse some promise that the NHRA might somehow redeem itself, or some surprise savior might step forward with a revolutionary new greed-proof approach to drag racing. The nostalgia drag racing movement got me excited and hopeful, until the first millionaire showed up - about five minutes after the concept was implemented. Alas, the only solution seems to be digital electronics: A strictly computer controlled organization, managing pairs of over-amped robots flashing down the track. With no human involvement whatsoever, there just might be a chance of true parity in drag racing. As long as human passions, egos, intellects, and spirits are involved, I'm afraid it's hopeless.
Drag race figurehead Big Daddy Don Garlits is looking to electrons to power the sport through the stench of stagnancy. Note that this design provides a space for the driver though. Uh oh... (Photo courtesy of Garlits.com)
THE ESTRUS FACTOR:
In the environment I was hatched in, roosters strutted around huffing and puffing, while the hens took care of business. Raising children, paying bills and putting out fires in the wake of said roosters was deemed women's work, as the men were way too busy with ego gratification and fearfully protecting their hardass images at all costs. It didn't seem fair to my childish sensibilities, until I hit my first drag race and realized this posturing was considered "normal behavior". Imagine my relief. Still, I could barely stifle my jubilance when I heard of the occasional female putting a rooster on the trailer. I kept my celebrations to myself in those days (Survival Skills 101), but now it's safe to admit my respect and outright adoration of...
These examples spotlight only a few highly successful female racers, who found fame in the most popular classes, where the media could easily find them. There were (and continue to be) many more unsung overachieving women competitors who's impact sadly remains local, or regional at best. I like to believe all of these pioneering women (famous and obscure alike) laid the groundwork for the female stars of the moment, such as Melanie Troxel, Erica Enders-Stevens, Karen Stoffer, Leah Pruett, Alexis DeJoria, Katie Sullivan, and the Force sisters. If a single example of this phenomenon must be chosen to represent all of the above, you couldn't do better than the woman dubbed "Cha Cha" by her competitors, who ultimately jammed that moniker up the ass of every arrogant male who ever uttered it, from anonymous street racers to Don Garlits himself.
As for that Garlits guy, at least half of his legend is due to mechanical innovation, and he isn't done yet.
Obviously, what's left of drag racing will continue to evolve for the best or worst, with or without my smeared stamp of approval. And though I may seem sour on this particular post, rest assured - as long as there are drag strips, I'll continue to seek them out. You'll still find me loitering in the pits, investing in hot dog stands, and lugging photography equipment up and down the quarter mile with a notebook in my back pocket. As for you, your assignment is to support your local drag strip and report on what inspires and repels you about the experience. Final exams will commence at season's end. Until then, class is dismissed.
LORI BENTLEY LAW
At high noon on Sunday, hot rod novelist Lori Bentley Law faced the Motor Mouth Radio hosts, live on the air. She was downright sparkly, sharing insight into her writing, as well as her noted automotive and motorcycle hijinks. Recommended listening for anyone with an interest in nuts, bolts, and the human condition. A recording of the highly anticipated showdown can be found on the show's home page at www.motormouthradio.com. PARENTAL WARNING: The first half-hour of this one hour show is devoted to an in-depth discussion of the brake pedal ratio on Motormouth Ray's GTO. Fascinating information, if you happen to be pondering the correct pedal ratio of your mid '60s GM project. (Geek note to the Motormouths: Master cylinder bore diameter [not pedal ratio] dictates brake line pressure - especially on non-power brake applications. I tried dialing this info to the show, but the phone lines were jammed. Wonder why?).
Hot Rod magazine Staff Editor Elana Scherr will be dropping by the Motor Mouth Radio studios this Thursday, October 24th. Tune into www.motormouthradio.com at Noon Eastern/9:00 AM Western to catch the action as the Motormouths meet Elana and her decidedly human interest slant on topics from 6-cylinder Mopars to that pizza joint in Europe. An overdramatic tip of the pith helmet to Motor Mouth Radio, for once again shining their K-Mart flashlight on the women of hot rodding and motorsports!
(Photos stolen from Hot Rod.com)
SCOTTY'S MODEL A PROJECT
Immediately following Sunday's radio show, I panicked out to Dr. Lockjaw's "Custom Metal" shop to resume work on the Model A (after a three week delay). The planned complete mock-up didn't happen, as a full day's work was required to straighten mangled 80 year-old tin before we could begin laying out attachment points for the sheetmetal. But we're ready now. Next week, for sure! Maybe.
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