Last fall I discovered a very cool and very unique automotive event unfolding at a lonely municipal airport in Central California. It was hosted by an organization called Shift S3ctor and known as Air Strip Attack. I’d never seen anything quite like it – completely legal, side-by-side racing on a wide open half-mile stretch of airport runway. It was the perfect place (and also one of the only places) to put today’s ridiculously fast performance machinery to the test. I was hooked.
Once I caught word that Shift S3ctor would return to the Coalinga Airport this spring for another event, I immediately planned on witnessing it again. This time though, I asked resident Speedhunters’ sharpshooter Larry Chen to come along and work some of his photographic magic on this unique event.
Not only was I excited to see what the event would look like through Larry’s photographic eye, I was also curious to see what he thought of this new form of motorsport. After all, the list of events that Larry has shot in the past is distinguished enough to make anyone green with envy.
It turns out Larry was quite impressed with Airstrip Attack. Not just with the level of the cars that came out, but also with the informal nature of the event. This didn’t surprise me, as I had the same reaction last year.
Airstrip Attack is essentiually a mix of traditional heads-up drag racing and a top speed trial like the Texas Mile. There are no starting lights or timing equipment, and the races aren’t run from a stop, but from a rolling speed that is determined by the drivers beforehand.
Once the cars pass an initial marker cone, it’s on. A full-throttle acceleration attack up to another set of cones located a half mile down the runway. After that there’s plenty of run-off space to slow down, along with safety crews on hand should anything go wrong.
When to run? Who to run? What speed to start from? That’s all left to the drivers to figure out.
If this sounds a little like a legal version of highway style-street racing, you’d pretty much be right. It’s exactly that ‘street-style’ atmosphere which makes Airstrip Attack so fascinating.
It’s also made the event popular with high horsepower car builder from the West Coast and beyond. For last weekend’s event, both day’s racing spots were sold-out well in advance. I noticed a number of familiar machines from last time, along with plenty of newcomers who came out to tackle the half-mile course.
Once again, I was very impressed by the variety of the vehicles that came out to run. tThe spread seemed to evenly mixed between cars from the US, Europe, and Japan.
One thing that all the cars had in common though, were significant amounts of power. You know you are in a strange place when the cars with 400 or 500 horsepower are considered the lower end of the bunch.
Even so, there was a wide spectrum of ways in which people chose to get down the runway. Some were using the event as a place to check out the top-end capability of showroom stock exotics, like this F430.
While an even bigger group of drivers used the runway as a place to do battle with their modified late model performance cars. The R35 GT-Rs were once again out in force, with many of them packing upwards of 1000hp and aided by AWD of course.
The personalized plate on this particular R35 is just too clever…
Then there was also a smaller group of more homegrown machines, usually based on older, lighter platforms and packing gnarly engine swaps. In terms of investment these cars are worth fractions of the high-end late model machinery, but they are often just as fast and even more exciting to watch.
One of these such cars was this relatively modest-looking FD3S RX-7. While its exterior treatment is very subtle with all original body parts…
…things get a little more crazy in the engine bay. Not only has its factory 13B been swapped with an LS motor, there’s also a decent-sized turbocharger hidden behind the radiator. The setup is good for what I’m guessing is a ‘conservative’ 600hp.
In contrast to the mild looking FD, we also came across an E46 M3 with one of most aggressive wide body conversions I’ve ever seen, and equally wide tires to fit under it. The look could rival many show cars…
…but this one also had the power to back it up thanks to assistance from the gods of boost.
Yes, I think the shoe polish numbers on the windows say it all.
Unfortunately, the event was not without its victims. Early on Saturday this 2JZ-swapped S13 pulled out of a pass when fire erupted under the hood. Even worse was that the flames hard torn up the brakes, making it a big challenge for the driver to slow the car down and get out.
The Nissan eventually was stopped with the help of the handbrake and luckily the driver was able to escape without any major injuries.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the car itself. You can see here the damage done when the heat and flames spread toward the cockpit, completely warping the dash.
Another one of the crazier cars we came across was this fourth generation Camaro out of Fresno. The parachute affixed to the rear should be the first thing that hints to its power.
Under the hood lies an absolute beast of an LS motor affixed with two enormous turbochargers. When I asked what kind of power the car was making, I was told it was running on low boost with “only” 850hp for most of the day.
At that setting, the car had hit 189mph (304kph) at the end of the track. The team were considering dialing up the boost the 1150hp setting, but the windy conditions were making things a bit unstable at higher speeds.
And while the grid was packed with high horsepower cars capable of some serious speeds at the end of the track, there were still a few which truly stood out atop the heap. One of them was the ‘King Kong’ Porsche 996 Turbo built by BBi Autosport out of Huntington Beach.
Not only was the 900+hp Porsche extremely fast, it was also one of the most dramatic cars to watch. Unlike the buttoned-down GT-Rs, this thing seemed to be grabbing for traction and moving sideways down the entire length of the track.
The car was driven by BBi’s owner Betim Berisha, who displayed a nice combination of both car control and cajones getting the Porsche down the runway.
Besides the issue of traction, there were also the aforementioned crosswinds that made things pretty hairy once the car got past the 160mph (257kph) mark.
By the end of the weekend the car was able to hit an astonishing 197.8mph (318kph).
Yes, there was a lot of attention on the raw speed numbers at the end of the runway, but it’s still the old fashioned side-by-side grudge matches that take center stage at Airstrip Attack.
There’s a universal appeal about watching two cars battle it out like this. Unlike normal drag racing where traction and timing become the key factor, this racing format lets the raw power do all the talking. Sometimes these matches would pair up two very similar cars, and other times you’d get unusual matchups like this Integra versus BMW duel.
In a very short time Shift S3ctor has created not only a fresh and unique form of motorsport, but just as importantly, a venue where today’s blindingly fast cars can be driven to their full potential.
Fast machines and a place to let them loose – it’s a simple formula, but one that makes total sense.
To put it another way, it’s today’s most high-tech cars fighting it out in a distinctively old school matter. You just gotta love it!
Photos by Larry Chen
Instagram : speedhunters_mike
update your article please. that camaro with the 'enormous turbos' dialed up the boost, ran the highest mph of the day, and won the event.
Same style event was held in Western Australia this weekend just gone, plenty of cars from modified to exotics. https://www.facebook.com/#!/AntilagRaceWars?fref=ts
The white cobra next to the camaro in that pic went 173 that day too many times. Not the fastest of the day but for sure handled business.
Hey speedhunters. That camaro went 198 later that day. You may want to reword your artical before you look totally stupid. They took fastest trophy for the day on sat. Check your facts.
"I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I'm free."
I'm sorry I had to do it. But those are some insane cars holy shit!
F&F quotes overload! keep it coming guys. BTW, do any of the drivers taped their hands to the steering wheel? ;-)
For some reason I was expecting cars running 4 or 5 up, Motor Trend style... Love the street vibe anyway. Its like the OK Corral for cars.
Just when you thought they couldn't reduce any more of the aspect of "driver skill" out of drag racing, they introduce the rolling start.
Nice coverage Larry. Nothing is quite what it seems at this event by the looks of things. A fairly stock looking Integra and 4dr 3series racing against each other...ok, nothing special there..... then I see the numbers on the windows.... WHAAA?!
that black e46 with the widebody was a little on the guady side but jeeeeesus ... 1000 horses to the rear wheels... i wonder what kind of rear ends all these guys are running?
The Nissan that catch fire had such a big turbo on the 2JZ that was fore sure good for at least 700 hp. Regarding the fire, I think the driver forgot to put down the cigarette :)
odd notice, but isn't that white Gallardo a Japanese-market only limited edition model? think its called Bianco Rosso or such. the red accenting gives it the impression
blonk20 Agreed, a turbo LS and only 600HP? You can get more from a rotary with less weight. Shit, you could probably get an aspirated quad-rotor to run 600HP. An LS would be cheaper to build though :)
napalmbob if i remember right mad mikes quad rotor makes about that. though its odd i do like ls swaps, just not into somehting that had a rotor lol
blonk20 Rotaries are rare enough and have such huge potential, its a shame to see them swapped out for anything other than something with more rotors. I hope that guy bought that rx7 for cheap with no engine in it.
napalmbob blonk20 if you think the silver turbo v8 FD only made 600hp..... I wonder why it went 192.5mph with short shifting 2-4th and finally being able to put the power down in 5th. A high HP rotary and reliable don't belong in the same sentence.
while yes its only making 600 hp plenty of potential left there. i still disagree with the idea of putting a piston engine in a rx series. and before anyone states the weight difference(i know they aren't far off each other) its more about the distribution of it. lets face it screwing with is ruins the best thing mazdas have going for them in a superb chassis
gnx7 blonk20The only two non-European cars to win Le Mans were the Ford GT40 Mk's (built by Lola and Shelby) with 400HP 427's, and the Mazda 787B with a 700HP 2.6 Litre quad-rotor. Both are awesome cars and prove that high horsepower and reliability come down to the driver, owner or builder, not the engine design. Rotaries have been in heaps of different motorsports over the years, so to say they can't be powerful and reliable just sounds like you are regurgitating some cliche you overheard rather than having formed your own opinion. I personally have nothing against V8's, American push-rod or otherwise, I just have an issue with people not understanding how to maintain rotaries, or even knowing how they even work. Yes, most V8's are simpler to maintain, cheaper to build and are more tolerant of fuck ups, but thats why I love rotaries; they demand a different kind of respect to a V8, and they give you a different kind of experience in return (that, 10,000 plus RPM and the crazy lumpy idle of an aspirated peripheral port). The only real problem I have with American push-rod V8's is not with the engine itself, but actually with the owners and builders that just swap LS's into these light Japanese chassis like everyone else instead of trying to do something interesting and challenging for once. Thats why I said " I hope that guy bought that rx7 for cheap with no engine in it. " because they can make power more cheaply than a rotary and the thought of low-tech and affordable max-speed car going up against GTR's and Lambo's is just plain cool.
I have heard of insanely powerful Supras, BMWs, GTRs and others but a Porsche? A 915hp Porsche? I just never have seen one or imagined one. Badass. I would love one. Speaking along the same line, are there any crazy HP Ferraris? I have definitely never heard of one. I think.....
roryfjohnston There are a lot of Porsche tuners who make crazy HP 911 : Gemballa, RUF, 9ff ... And for Ferrari you have Underground Racing for exemple. Both offer 1000HP+ modifications.
tipiak I have heard of those tuners but I had no idea that there were 900+ HP Porsches running around. And, a 1000HP Ferrari?! Jesus Christ. I feel like they would drive just a little less refined than stock. And, just a bit faster ;)
Enjoyed this article and photos. Cool event, great to see owners getting a chance to exercise their cars properly. 480bhp in that Integra?!
I bet he's running a cool air intake, a NOS fogger system and a T4 turbo, Dominic.... I see an AIC controller, it has direct port nitrous injection... yeah, and a standalone fuel management system.... not a bad way to spend $10,000.
Speed_Kiwi No one in the US gives a shit about BHP. It's what you make at the wheels that matters. WHP > BHP.
There should be more events like this! Completely legal and I can't understand why someone wouldn't love doing this sort of racing. It's just street racing, but legal!
The shot of the Porsche where you look by the car into the distance is incredible. Good job Larry!
Great stuff Larry! the Blue Corvette pic (IATS) was from an event just like this! WannaGoFast
Awesome article guys! I love the rear shots of the CLS63 and the Porsche Turbo. Larry, for some of your photos you seem to be using a prime lens, which one might I ask? 50, 80, or 100mm?