Taking a drive of a lifetime as NHRA coming to Route 66
By Brian Stanley email@example.com June 18, 2012 6:36PM
Updated: July 20, 2012 6:04AM
By the time I was up to speed, the race had ended.
With the National Hot Rod Association Nationals being held at Route 66 Raceway June 28-July 1, the track gave the media the opportunity to drag race last week.
“The Chicago Bears and the baseball teams have been around for 100 years, racing is newer to the area and our intent is to get you exposed to the sport,” President Scott Paddock said.
I’m used to driving with something really loud and powerful directly behind my seat, though my Ben seems less likely to catch fire. Besides his love of fast things on wheels, my 3-year-old son stayed on my mind because I was being strapped in my dragster exactly like it was a child safety seat.
Besides the straps across my chest and shoulders and between my legs, elbow restraints were put on my forearms to “keep your arms from flying out if you crash.” A lightweight jacket, padded gloves, a circular neck cushion and motorcycle-type helmet completed the ensemble.
Because of the hot weather, instructor Doug Foley recommended leaving the visor mostly closed during my run instead of completely shut. It feels cooler. It looks cooler. It’s what the professionals do and it’s considered safe because it’s going to close if there is impact from a crash.
A few switches were flipped on my training model (top speed of 170 mph, about half of a professional dragster) and the engine started. I’m sure the helmet helped, but it wasn’t the loudest thing I ever heard. Maybe my son has just helped me build up a tolerance.
Using both feet to brake and accelerate took some mental adjustment, but I would’ve felt embarrassed to run over Foley or his assistants.
I moved into the lane, which is covered with a sticky black glue and centered the car on the groove running down the center. Foley raised one arm and slammed down his other to signal it was time for my burnout. Instead I sat there and wondered how that was done.
“Do the burnout,” Foley shouted to me. I also know what “land a helicopter” would look like, but I’d never done that before either. I learned before moving the car into “the box” you hit the gas for one second and then brake. Perhaps it looks impressive from the stands but I couldn’t help thinking it hurts the tires.
With the vehicle in position, I was set to go and looked at “the tree.” A vertical board that had a red light, several ambers and a green. I understood their purpose.
As Foley and driver T.J. Zizzo had advised, I took a deep breath as I reached the line. Their other recommendation was that trying to steer the car was the worst thing I could do.
“At that speed, you want to guide it just a little,” Zizzo said as he made a small centering motion with his hands.
I saw the green and slammed down the gas, and a split-second later I reacted to shooting forward by easing up on the gas. I slammed it down again, but my timing was already shot.
“That happens with just about every (civilian). Totally understandable because you’re not used to it,” Zizzo said later.
I made runs of 1/16th, 1/8th and a quarter-mile and accomplished my primary goal — I survived. I also accomplished my secondary goal — nothing was wrecked.
As for beating any of the Chicago TV reporters I was racing against ... well, thankfully another driver went over the line before the tree turned green and was disqualified.
“You didn’t redlight. You’d have beat the guy,” Zizzo said.
So at least I learned to do something right in a couple of seconds.