A long time ago, my dad took me and my three siblings to the NHRA drag races in Pomona. I must have been eight years old, and all I remember is the smell of rubber for days, and my mom combing chunks of burned tire out of my hair. I think that was the last time we went to the dragstrip. What I do remember from way back when that has stuck with me today, is the thrill and chill that runs through your whole body when those top-fuel dragster fly down the narrow strip of asphalt at mind-numbing speeds and 0-60-mph times faster than the mind can comprehend. Unless you’re a professional photographer with a quick lens and fast reaction times, don’t even bother trying to grab a photo as the race cars zip by. All you’ll end up with is a blurry photo of the back end of the vehicle.
The NHRA runs a series of 24 races from February to November across the country, and the Winternationals in Pomona, California, is where the season begins. While most people equate drag racing with Top Fuel dragsters or Funny Cars, there are a lot more classes that compete, including motorcycles, Pro Stock, and Pro Modified. The race events are run over a three- or four-day period, with a lot of qualifying before the finals take place on Sunday.
There was a lot of excitement surrounding the first meet of the year. The Forces were out in, well, force, with John, Courtney and Brittany all vying for title runs, and Courtney and Brittany in vehicles sporting shiny bowties instead of blue ovals, as Ford dropped out of NHRA drag racing completely at the end of last season.
The Saturday we went, it was cloudy and cool with rain in the forecast, which is good news for drivers. Cool weather makes for quicker times, and happier drivers. Little did we know sitting in the stands that morning that we would be witness to the fastest run down the strip in NHRA history. And we also witnessed another first. Which is part of the reason drag racing is so much fun — you never know what’s going to happen. As avid baseball fans, who watch ball players leisurely complete a game in hours (although MLB is attempting to speed it up a bit starting this year), drags are over in seconds. Kudos go to the sponsors of these rides, as their names are flashes of color during the event, unlike a NASCAR race where you see the sponsor’s name all over the car again and again for hours.
And speaking of sponsors, getting them and keeping them is the biggest challenge the teams face, more than maintaining composure and focus during those eye-bulging runs. We mention this because of the event that occurred during the Winternationals. Shawn Langdon, who has been racing and winning for more than 15 years, lost his major sponsor of six years, The Qatar Racing Club, for the 2015 season, and has been scrambling to find a replacement since the announcement only a few weeks before the opening event. The Alan Johnson Racing team had been working hard to line up someone, but time ran out, so his top fuel dragster came to the starting line dress in black, a fitting note as the team mourned its lost sponsorship. The only artwork on the vehicle — and the team semi — came from Knuckle Sandwich and Guy Fieri, a supporter of Langdon and the team.
But in true Hollywood fashion, during his qualifying run, Langdon laid down a blistering 3.700-second run, not only surprising himself and the announcers, but thrilling the crowd who had a chance to be there to see history made; that time goes down as the quickest pass in NHRA history. “It was just a picture-perfect run,” said Langdon. “It accelerated hard and pulled all the way until I shut it off. I thought I caught a glimpse of a 3.70 on the scoreboard, but I wasn’t really sure. When I turned the corner and saw everyone hootin’ and hollerin’, I thought ‘I guess I did see that 3.70.’”
Unfortunately, in order to set a national elapsed time record, a second run has to be completed with a time within one percent of the first time. But he couldn’t make it happen, as Sunday was warmer than the rainy Saturday, which raises the track temperature and makes it a lot harder to get those low numbers. Langdon said that they were even trying to make a 6.9-second run, but that didn’t happen. What did happen was on Sunday, Langdon went on to win the Winternationals Top Fuel title by beating out Antron Brown at the end of the day.
As Langdon and his team progress through the season, the goal is to just make it to the next race, while still trying to sign a title sponsor. With the way they are running, it’s a smart move for some company to step up and give them the much-needed cash to run the season. We think it will be money well spent.
Photography © Scott Killeen/Team Killeen