April in Coalinga, California.
Animals are let out to pasture, lettuce is harvested, tomato seeds are sown. And it’ll already be dusty and dry, with temps somewhere in the mid-80s. Welcome the California Desert, in a city formerly referred to as Southern Pacific Railroad Company’s Coaling Station A.
Smaller than seven square miles and home to less than 20,000 residents, Coalinga isn’t your typical weekend destination. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, and there’s not usually a whole lot going on. Except, last weekend, where something was going on: A good few hundred people gathered at Coalinga Airport, shut down the main runway, and had a really good time.
Thanks to Motovicity Distribution, the tradition of Never Lifting lives on — just you, your buddies, an airstrip, a whole lot of horsepower, and no one to bother you. What more could you ask for?
The Never Lift Half Mile event is basically exactly as it sounds, but it’s not all what you might expect. From a technical standpoint, the differences in base cars and car setup you see here versus your typical weekday quarter mile are vast.
First off, there’s still a casual crowd, but rather than the hopped-up old muscle cars you’re used to seeing at the drag strip, you’ll notice it’s a different clientele. Nearly brand-new exotics and run-of-the-mill German cars alongside everyday Mustangs and Camaros.
People who want to go fast but aren’t necessarily going to have their life revolve around it. The reasonable people, the responsible ones.
There’s also a good bit of weird stuff out at the track, too. Think pickup trucks, Teslas, and that wacky PT Cruiser Ben was already admiring.
I think it’s fair to include bikes in this category as well, because you have to be at least a little bit weird to travel half a mile at full throttle with no crash protection.
There are, of course, purpose-built half mile cars, too. With twice the distance for things to go wrong, these cars are set up a bit differently than their quarter mile-going equivalents. Yes, you still want plenty of power down low, but when you’re shooting for a top speed rather than an ET your hook-up on launch is a whole lot less important.
When it comes to the guys who are really pushing for every last bit out of their cars — and have the skill and grip to accommodate — you’ll still see violent launches to use every last bit of tarmac. But much of the time the starting line isn’t where speed is found.
Instead, it’s the transition into each subsequent gear blasting down the strip, where a botched shift or a bit of wheel-spin makes an exponentially detrimental impact on your ultimate speed due to the amount of air you’re trying to cut through at any given time (but especially once you’re past the quarter mile mark).
From a number’s perspective, it’s a bit mind-boggling, actually.
Take, for example, the fastest time of the weekend this year which was 224.89mph (361.92km/h), set by Patrick Kennedy in his (and his dad’s) 2015 Nissan GT-R.
If you caught my coverage from the 2018 event, you might remember that the Kennedy’s were then hunting down the magical 200 miles per hour mark, which they eclipsed last year and absolutely smashed this time around.
Anyway, when it comes to air, each second at this speed the GT-R is displacing over 9,000 cubic feet of it. Each second. That’s a volume I really can’t comprehend at all over a half mile run, and shows just how important the little details become at speed.Vanity
Face-numbing speed, earth-turning torque, ear-splitting exhaust notes — those are all well and good. It’s why we’re here, after all, but what I didn’t realize was that Never Lift is a gold mine for something else.
Something very specific. I’ll just leave these here… guess which is my favorite?Golden Brown
It’s just a bit of a wild experience seeing cars chase such high speeds on a runway dead smack in the middle of nowhere, California. I’ve already talked about it, but I have to reiterate: I love the variety that shows up to Never Lift.
So much goes into these cars, and perhaps the best part of it is that with many you can hardly tell from the outside. Even the fairly dedicated half-milers often still have full interiors and other creature comforts like air conditioning and heated seats.
Still, the prep-work to get a car in the neighborhood of 200 miles per hour in the half mile is no small task. Talking to a few guys who do this quite a lot, the simple answer is that it’s mostly a numbers game. How much power do you need to go a certain speed with a given amount of drag? Then, what’s the engine RPM, gearing, tires size, and so on that actually gets you there?
That part, on paper, is easy. Actually building these engines for 1,000+hp (on up to nearly 3,000), good up to 7,000rpm and beyond, then replacing all of the parts between the crankshaft and the tarmac to accommodate the earth-moving torque, that’s the tricky part.
It’s so difficult to get everything right on the first try, too, and it’s inevitable things will break along the way.
Beyond the obvious, there are also the little incremental tweaks that go into any car built to handle a flat-out half mile. All weekend long guys are tinkering around, changing tire pressures, modifying their settings, and taking notes on what to change for the next event. Suspension and aero adjustments seem to be the most straightforward, while more nuanced aspects like taping up the front end or whether or not to do a burnout before your run also come into play.
Just like any other form of racing, each change you make and upgrade you install pushes you that little bit further. Each event is educational, and even during each run you can find minute areas to improve on. Having experienced the passion of the guys on the grid firsthand, I’ll say you can almost see their addiction to speed.
No matter how fast they go, they’re always waiting for that next run.
Going fast on its own is a bit habit forming, but put distinct numbers to it, add in a bit of friendly competition (not to mention the largest purse in half mile racing) and you have all the pieces to a debilitating craving to go faster and faster and faster… You can never go too fast, am I right?
The Never Lift Half Mile event is one rife with good times, big thrills, and strong emotions — both oh-so-satisfying and crushingly disappointing. Either way, there’s always next year, and I expect the crowds and cars to continue to multiply the next time around.
Personally, I’ve never in my life so much as made a pass down a drag strip, but after this year’s half mile shootout in Coalinga I think I need a dose. And soon.
Anyone have something with 1,200 or so horsepower sitting around that I can take for a spin down an airstrip?
Photos by James Lipman