Gentlemen, start your engines…
What sport spends millions of dollars in pursuit of a foot-high trophy by following a groove, avoiding wheel spin and watching a Christmas tree?
It’s not a trick question. The answer is Drag Racing and for this article specifically the top end of the NHRA, the National Hot Rod Association. There’s a $3M dollar purse. Spread that out and it barely covers the fuel bill. There must be something deeper at stake here.
Classes include Pro Stock, Motorcycles, Top Fuel and Funny Cars. Some of this will be revealed as it can get overly complicated. Top Fuel and Funny Cars are the most dominant, noisy, clearly un-environmentally friendly but the biggest crowd pleasers, home to the sport’s big names.
Capable of well over 300 mph at the finish stripe with acceleration figures akin to a rocket ship; 0-100mph in under one second, pulling 5G like a fighter pilot. If a race lasts four seconds, something broke. The track is measured at 60 feet, 330, 660 and the end, 1000 feet from the tree, this is highly specific though for reasons known only to information fanatics and TV.
CH3NO2, better known as Nitromethane is the reaction between propane and nitric acid. A potent brew that burns nose hair and gives breathing a hard time also helps that Chrysler Hemi develop 10,000+ bhp. Other engines are available. Gas masks can be seen worn around the paddock. Torque is massive.
Watch the burnout, that second or two of full throttle clutch dumping action to heat and clean the rubber. Then a crew member has donned special mitts to rub off any collected detritus. Some wear ear defenders, don’t pity those who don’t; they can’t hear you anyway.
To the line. Staging is set by inches and turns on the blue light. Roll seven inches further and you’re deep staged – closer to the finish line but also to a red light foul. Gamesmanship. Cahones.
The tree. Before you realise, it’s green and the two protagonists (sometimes four – mind blowing) are gone with a sheet of flame and terrifying roar. And three point six five seven seconds later, the commentator drives the crowd crazy on announcing the victor.
If it’s close at the stripe, a photo finish picture reveals almost cartoonishly elongated vehicles literally inches in front. Heady stuff. The driver then pops the lid or shimmies out of the cockpit and even if the loser has a smile on their face. The winner’s is bigger, mind but hand shakes, fist pumps and hollerin’ occur.
Between races an army of mechanics swarm over the engine replacing almost every possible part. Countless hours preparing, checking, testing tuning, repairing. Cylinder problems are rife: detonations devastating. The well drilled crews begin again, be that routine maintenance, or crash damage. This rigmarole continues for 24 races across the US. Do not drop that wrench.
Competition is fierce yet appears on TV as friendly. Most teams know each other, been around the (engine) block together. Current chap atop the Top Fuel ladder is Steve Torrance. Classing himself a true “ Hill-Billie”, his a-whoopin’ an’ hollerin’ have been extensive this season. Funny Cars has the hard staring Robert Hight but he faces stiff competition from his team boss and owner, 70 years old John Force. Competing since 1979, Force is a force to be reckoned with. He’s just won his 150th race. His teeth are Daz White. His daughters compete too, yes, girls are allowed, often showing the men-folk who’s boss.
Dismissing drag racing as a “quarter mile dash” is an injustice. Egos the width of Wisconsin, budgets to make countries weep, mind games, deep staging, reaction time and that all elusive Wally(r) Many drivers state “outdoor activities “ for their downtime away from the strip. Rarely are they as svelte as the more typical racing driver. More steak than salad, here.
But there really is something quite compelling about the game. Earth shattering, violent cacophony. Camaraderie. Entertainment. Rooting for your favourite. Enormous rear tyres that appear to buckle. Hoping he/she doesn’t loose it as the tyres smoke. That particular way America deals with heartbreak.
As for Wally (r) the trophy, he’s named after Wally Parks, the NHRA founder and dished out to the “winningest” driver and has been since 1969. Made from a blend of zinc and “aloonimum” on a walnut base, Wally (r) is held aloft with pride, shown to the heavens, the cameras, the fans.
“As real as a glass of water. As hard to get as a million dollars” Steve Johnson, Pro Motorcycling racer states after twenty years effort without one.
Tony Schumacher, a noteable pilot of recent times points out “Not so much what it is but what Wally (r) represents.” Personal goals, teams, families, pride. Prosaic stuff from Hill-Billies. Every ticket allows access all areas, fans up close and personal, totally unlike those Formula One luminaries hidden behind veils, fences and management.
These guys and gals flaunt it but in an oh-so wonderfully American way. Filthy lucre and sponsorship deals always make life sweeter for the chosen few. Long may the Wally (r) be searched for.
Editor’s note: Top Fuel drag racing engines are derived from the Chrysler Hemi, and not the Chevy V8 as originally stated. This has since been amended in the text [21/08/19 18.23 GMT].
23 thoughts on “Where’s Wally (R)”
Very nicely written. Biggest anomaly: related content- w126
Thank you guytonglavin. Forgive my savage ignorance but could you elaborate on the Mercedes front, please? I am lost!
Good morning, Andrew. Thank you for an excellent introduction to a motorsport about which I knew next to nothing, other than the fact that corners don’t feature much! Guy is referring to the three “related” pieces featured just below yours, the middle one of which is about the W126 S-Class.
I’m also a big fan of custard creams, but I’m not allowed them 😦
Andrew et al, the choice of related articles appears to be the creation of some random WordPress-based algorithm. It is possible I believe to nudge it in a certain direction, but left to its own devices, it does seem to have a mind of its own. Having said that; people being who they are, someone is bound to have drag-raced a W126 somewhere along the line – and I don’t mean a simple race from a standing start in factory trim either…
On the subject of custard creams, I will have to admit to an element of ambivalence. These days, if the biscuit in question doesn’t possess magical powers, it really isn’t happening.
Actually, when it comes to biscuits, my absolute favourite is, naturally enough, a German premium item:
Now you’re talking, Daniel. These babies have been known to resuscitate the dead from their slumber…
Choco Leibniz have been produced by the Bahlsen food company in Hanover since 1891. That makes them just about as old as Daimler Benz. However, unlike the automotive company, Bahlsen hasn’t succumbed to the trivialising whims of fashion and Choco Leibniz biscuits are now widely regarded as a design classic, often imitated but never surpassed. They are, I would suggest, the quintessential DTW biscuit. Custard Creams, a British invention, are somewhat vulgar and arriviste by comparison, dating only from 1908. They are entirely functional and fit for purpose, but lack the aspirational appeal of their premium German competitor.
Not that I’d necessarily disagree with you on the identity of the quintessential DTW biscuit, especially in the light of Messrs, Herriott and Kearne’s current absence (matters thence had often become rather heated in the past), but Driven to Write does not discriminate and remains as dogma-free on the matter of biscuit varieties as it does on the subject of the automobile. One man’s vulgar arriviste is another’s tasty mid-afternoon repast.
Now, I wonder what the biscuit equivalent to an Astra F might be?
I have yet to try custard creams – I wasn’t aware of them, and they are probably hard to get in Switzerland. The Leibniz-Keks I know better as their French equivalent, called Petit Beurre (invented in 1886 – so, no matter how often the German Premiums try to claim important inventions, the French usually have been there first!). In Switzerland, they come in a chocolate covered variety as well, combining milk chocolate and dark chocolate in one package. Unfortunately, the number of dark ones is smaller than the lighter ones…
I think it’s time for a comparative road (ahem…) test here.
I also wonder what’s the energy content of these cookies, compared with stuff like, for example, CH3NO2.
Well sound the foghorn and call me Arnold; how amazing is the world of DTW? From drag racing to biscuits via a logarithmic process, amazing.
And the fight twixt custard creams or these Leibniz…I’d have to sample both again to form a true, nah, stuff it – the German Choco wins today!
Oh, regarding the Astra F, how about this one:
Whole grain, unsweetened!
I seem to recall that Richard is in possession of a sweeter tooth than that…
Simon, I think custard creams are native to the British Isles and don’t travel well: I’ve never noticed them anywhere else. They comprise two, er, biscuits with a custard flavoured filling between. I dread to think what the ingredients are, probably all saturated fat and refined sugar. Here’s one:
As to a biscuit equivalent of the Astra F, I would nominate the following:
No frills, does the job. Easily overlooked.
Daniel, custard creams as described sound like a bit of a nightmare companion. Do they get horribly seasick on the channel crossing, or is it more of a Mr. T style ‘I’m not gettin’ on no damn plane’ fear of flying? I merely seek clarification…
It’s far worse than that, Eóin. According to the Telegraph, Custard Creams are the most dangerous biscuit you could eat:
No wonder our continental neighbours give them a wide berth.
I think i need to change my tag line; how can my (second) favourite biscuit be so harmful? Though the hurt is made more so by a Telegraph investigation. How did they know how to cut through me, so deeply, so intimate, so put the kettle on and have a biccy.
I dunno. You get a half-decent article on Top Fuel and Funny Car dragsters, and all you lot can do is mumble on about biscuits? How refined! The biscuits I mean, being an agglomeration of chemicals with a whiff of wheat and or “ancient”grains newly grown if you’re lucky, baked into a brick for your delectation. The less said about the filling in the two-sided ones the better, but its formulation is likely not unrelated to the Indonesian archipelago being turned into a coconut monoculture grove for Lever Bros.
Everyone should go to a drag race meeting once in their lives. It’s fun watching objects accelerate at rates beyond your imagination. The fact that it’s obviously dangerous as all get out heightens the excitement. There’s more to life than musing over DLOs and organic volumes.
It stopped years and years ago, but for knowledge on decent tea and biccies, I used to visit a website run by a bloke from Cambridge that kept me in stitches. Luckily, you can still visit the site because it’s never been taken down:
As you’d expect, The Americans couldn’t make a decent biscuit (cookie) if they tried, there are a few decent Canadian ones like Dad’s, and the continental ones get short shrift. They sell German ones here in Canada – once tried, twice rejected – they’re as dry as old boots. I’m a Hobnob fan myself. In fact I think I’ll brew up a cuppa and have a couple from my secret cache.
Ah, Bill, ever the DTW contrarian! You’ve still given yourself away as an aficionado of all things biscuit: thank you for the link to an invaluable source of further information on the subject!
I feel sorry for all the people hurt by parts of their biscuits while eating them or hunting for them in wet concrete or passenger footwells, but I think everyone who is dunking a biscuit (or worse, croissant) in tea or coffee is served well for his deed of ruining at once a crispy pastry as well as an immaculate drink.
Absolutely agree! What sane person wants to eat a soggy biscuit or, even worse, drink a cup of tea contaminated with crumbs? Serves them right if it the biscuit falls into their lap!
You don’t see the Lincoln biscuit any more do you?
I think that Tesco Ireland still sell them. Jacob´s still sell them. They have palm oil in them so I don´t buy them or very many other biscuits.
Palm oil doesn’t like you either…..