#joyofmachine, A Quarter Mile At A Time

Ah yes, drag racing. At its core, it is motorsport of the purist kind, and one with a very low barrier to entry. All one needs to enjoy a good drag is a car, a strip of relatively straight road surface of a predefined length and, preferably, someone else to find out whether or not you’re faster than. As a result, there is where many of us – myself included – get our first taste of automotive adrenaline.

Some of my first memories of driving a car with vigor involve late nights with my friends in cars that our parents had loaned to us, off in the countryside or an industrial park causing a ruckus. Sadly, over time drag racing began to dwindle in my list of ever growing interests and, up until recently, was hardly a blip on my radar.

Then a few weeks back at SEMA I stumbled across something very curious,  a fully built Camaro drag car, which totally blew my mind. After discussing my findings with Rod, he suggested that I return to Las Vegas in two weeks time to attend the annual Street Car Super Nationals event, and boy I am ever glad that I did!

A large part of being a Speedhunter is exploration of new scenes and unfamiliar territories. For some this “fish out of water” experience is a scary thing, but I’ve come to enjoy the sensation more and more and I have never had so much fun being an outsider as I did last weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

I went in with an open mind and expected to be blown away by whatever was awaiting me on the other side of the gates, but I completely underestimated what I was in for! If I had to pick one aspect of the event that really made it enjoyable for me it was the massive variety of cars, engines and build qualities on hand. At one end of the spectrum you have state of the art Pro Mod/Street dragsters that are flawlessly assembled and capable of running sub-6 second passes…

Then on the other end of the paddock you have what appear to be completely original-bodied hot rods from half a century ago which seem to have been competing for nearly as long as they’ve existed. I experienced a strange sense of patriotism over the course of the weekend and it put a big smile on my face to think that this is a huge part of our automotive history as Americans.

Going back to my high school memoirs for a moment, I felt as though I got the short end of the stick by the district zoning policy as the school I attended was the only one without an auto shop course. Luckily the students of Rim High School in Lake Arrowhead, CA, don’t have that same problem and assembled this badass Camaro for the event!

Had I been anywhere else last weekend, I would have said that the license plate on this Chevy II is a bit ambitious. However at SCSN I saw more than a few things that changed my outlook on what’s capable when you combine displacement with modern technology… and I can assure you, only good things can come from it.

By the time Sunday night rolled around I truly didn’t want to leave. I had grown rather fond of these ear-drum shattering dragsters and felt as if I had only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. In hindsight I did actually get quite a bit accomplished and was able to sneak into more than a few nooks and crannies to see what makes these mental cars tick… let’s have a look at some of my findings.

For the most part, dragsters – particularly those at the faster / quicker end of the spectrum – are built and ran at the ragged limit and require a lot of maintenance between runs. With this in mind a lot of their design seems to be concentrated towards ease of service at the forefront, with safety taking the second priority and overall performance shortly there after.

With the Pro cars, the entire chassis is tubular and vastly complex. Seeing the cars with the bodywork removed, the relationship between the chassis and the other critical components reminded me a lot of a seeing a comic book artist draw a human shape, beginning with a crude skeletal frame and then shaping everything else around it.

It’s pretty incredible, if you consider how hard it was for top-level teams to break the 6-second barrier in professional dragsters, that privateers are able to run sub-6-second passes in door slammers. While the laws of physics haven’t changed in the last fifty or so years, the technology that launches and propels the cars certainly has.

The cockpits in these mega door slammers are very bare bones and quite harsh environments to be in. Then again they don’t really need to be too comfortable as the driver is only in the car, at most, for a few minutes. Creativity and ingenuity only begin to describe the things you can see inside  these monsters.

It’s really difficult to get a sense of scale for any of the components on these cars, so here’s a little better idea of what it’s like to find yourself sandwiched inside a Pro Mod dragster. I’m only 5’8″ and 135lbs, but the thought of trying to wiggle my way into that seat makes me cringe! Suddenly funny cars seem a little more practical.

Some time in the coming weeks I plan on visiting a few these car builders for some much needed features, but also to get the full scoop on how these things work. It seems as if the setup and fine tuning of the mechanicals and electronics is just as important, if not more so, than the driver of these machines. For example, look at how complicated that gear lever is!? Just look at it!

In all honesty the firewall on these cars is more of a flameproof suggestion than a real separation between the interior and engine compartment of the car, as evident in this photo. Once the body is removed you can get a much better idea of how these cars go together and fuse all the necessary components to one another.

Of course the hot topic for most people when it comes to performance vehicles is the engine, and this couldn’t be more true for dragsters. They say “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” and while I can’t attest to that in a literal sense, I can tell you that there are many ways to propel a car down the thirteen-twenty.

Once again scale starts to come into play when you look at one of these cars in person. Sadly there’s no good way to capture the size of everything in an image without putting something of known scale in for comparison. I think it’s safe to say that if you imagine every component, from the header tubes to the spark plug cables, is at least double its normal size, you’re on the right track.

As impressive as the NA and Supercharged cars were, there’s something so wrong – yet so right – about seeing a pair of snails bolted to a massive V8. Coming from the JDM side of things where turbos are quite common, I know a lot of the time the biggest issue is where to stuff all the complicated piping… well after seeing the volume of the turbo systems on these cars, I’d say that Supra and GT-R owners have NOTHING to complain about!

You know you’re in a strange land when a blower the size of a 13B rotary engine is “small”.

Fortunately these are large cars with large engine bays to begin with, so even those that retain some of the stock body panels have ample room for a massive 4- or even 5-inch turbo induction system. The manner by which each component has been carefully planned, delicately routed and masterfully fabricated is pure art.

Even the simpler engine setups in the slower street classes were of gargantuan scale. For example that MSD distributor is probably 5″ in diameter!

Here we see another MSD distributor, which should help you size up the enormous supercharger above it. If that doesn’t make your inner petrol head drool I don’t know what will! Also worth noting is the safety cover that wraps the blower in the event that everything goes wrong, which is very possible in this sport.

The beautiful thing about SCSN is that virtually every car there means business. My guess is if you saw this mustang on the street you probably wouldn’t think much of it, but beneath the surface it’s fully packed in with some massive snails!

Yet compared to this ‘Stang from MMR, those are just baby turbos! It’s fascinating to me that cars built under such different philosophies, featuring bodies that span over fifty years, can be so closely competitive. If you couldn’t tell from the expression on the gentleman in the teal shirt’s face, mine was not the only mind that was blown last weekend.

Elsewhere in the paddock I found this work-in-progress that I believe will eventually become an Outlaw Camaro. It’s always fun to see cars in this semi-completed stage because you can see how different builders go about planning their builds and determining the most appropriate way to complete them. I’d imagine this car will be doing 7-second passes in no time!

While the Pro category is basically anything goes, the Outlaw cars can use one power adder of the builder’s choice. Be it turbo or superchargers which we’ve already covered, or the less common solution, Nitrous.  Those who choose the juice have some pretty serious plumbing going on to stay competitive agains those massive FI setups.

Yet as diverse as the engines are, there’s still one area that allows even more creative freedom; the body. At the end of the day, as much as I love drooling over engines and performance aspects, I can’t help but admire a car in its completed form. There’s something really beautiful about a racing series where you can literally race any type of “car” you want, you simply build a full tube chassis and stick whatever type of body you like on top.

By the end of the weekend I was almost more impressed with the oddities out there. Anyone can race a Camaro or a Mustang, but how about an El Camino? This got me thinking, so long as you have a really good fiberglass guy, the possibilities are virtually endless… How about a Pro Mod Hakosuka!? Or a Mercedes 300SL gullwing-slammer?

I guess if there’s one thing to be learned from my experience, it’s that you never really outgrow your passions, sometimes they just need a little wake up call. If it’s been a while since you’ve been to the strip I definitely encourage you to go, you never know what kind of an affect it might have on you… for me it was a welcomed sense of wonderment and I can’t wait until the next time I have the pleasure of having my bones shaken by these brutes.

More Drag events on Speedhunters

More stories by Sean Klingelhoefer on Speedhunters

-Sean


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37 comments
Buck gt
Buck gt

A lot of the pro mods and pro street cars run MSD Magnetos not distributors that's why they are so big.

KBR
KBR

this is the proper SPEEDHUNTER article. I really like these types of features rather than the "Hellaflush" or "Stanced" out cars that lack "speed". sorry, but thats how I am.

dougbunge
dougbunge

Sean, I have to say, good on you for broadening your horizons and attending this event.  Sometimes I think I'm the only guy who subscribes to Honda Tuning, Hot Rod magazine and a few in between. 

 

I like cars, all of them.  I dislike the divisionist nature within car culture that seems to have come alive with the advent of the internet.  We are all part of the same club and we need to stick together, with the help of groups like SEMA, to ensure we are still allowed to turn our own wrenches and modify our rides in the future.  Thanks for sharing these pictures and the beautiful cars that attended.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we appreciate it.

Nikhil_P
Nikhil_P

awesome! i love these drag cars, they seem so simple yet complicated at the same time!!

by any chance when you visit some of these garages would it be possible to do one of those in-depth technical articles. would love to see them in more detail!

datsunsss
datsunsss

Hot damn!! Giant turbos FTMFW!! Haha, great article Sean, you captured some stonking machines!

Adrian Senna
Adrian Senna

l live my life one quarter mile at a time, nothing else matters, for those 10 seconds or less, l'm free. (Toretto, 2001)

Curlytop
Curlytop

Sean you have gone and outdone yourself again, amazing post! ;)

SethPatterson
SethPatterson

Great photos, I too have been recently converted to this dark side of massive displacement and big american muscle from the world of turbo 4's and 6's.

"Some time in the coming weeks I plan on visiting a few these car builders for some much needed features"

YES YES YES Please.

Bubba_Rao
Bubba_Rao

Looks like photos of a hillbilly jamboree.

Mighty_Mite50
Mighty_Mite50

Totally agree with you on the size thing. You think you know what big is and then you see some of these cars...Mad

Chrispando
Chrispando

Those turbos put out more boost thant I can benchpress.

xIRISHx
xIRISHx

Im positive that that "SIX SEC" Nova is the same one that has dominated Hot Rod's Drag Week for the past five years! Its had a number of paint jobs but its street Legal & this year it hit high 6s at the strip... while driving over 1200 miles during the week! I really hope you have a feature on it because it is one of the quickest street cars in the world!!!

ding0tr0n
ding0tr0n

agh, urgh, eeergh...brain...melting...

 

these folks seem to really like those msd distributor caps.  and biturbo setups.

 

amazing stuff!

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

Yep you're right, I'd presume most of those cars are running a Pro Mag setup. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

 @dougbunge Yep, cool is cool as far as I'm concerned. Besides, how can you really say what you like if you don't experience it all? 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

 @Nikhil_P Ya I want to do a full-on technical feature on at least one of these Pro cars. They're so incredible!

Adrian Senna
Adrian Senna

you reminded me of that Sean, great article!

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

 @SethPatterson It's a very fascinating world, that's for sure. I'll be doing my best to do some in depth features during the off season ;)

xIRISHx
xIRISHx

@Bubba_Rao not trying to be a dick... but I found this to be quite funny coming from somebody named "Bubba"

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

 @Mighty_Mite50 Ya it's something that has to be experienced to be believed. Even after you think you're used to it the size of these engines and components is unreal. 

Jamie Binnie
Jamie Binnie

 @Dusty Monkey its not the same Nova, you're referring to Larry Larsons Street legal twin turbo nova. His plates read MC3 W6U. granted this one is similar, but it aint Larrys 6.95 @ 209mph nova

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

 @Dusty Monkey Wow that's incredible! I'll have to research that car a little further... and I think I need to go to Hot Rod's Drag Week next year, I've heard nothing but good things about it!

Autolegend
Autolegend

 @TrackOne Awesome overload. You need to be careful swinging that much awesome around these parts. 

xIRISHx
xIRISHx

@Jamie Binnie its the same car. That intercooler piping gives it away. I have a picture of that car when it was pink & it matches perfectly. & he broke the 6 second barrier at drag week a few months ago so im sure he changed the plate to reflet that

dougbunge
dougbunge

 @Dusty Monkey I seriously doubt there are two Nova2's from Missouri with identical intercooler pipe setups running high 6's.  Oh, and Larry Larson was at the event.


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