Drag Racing Done Right: Confessions of an Import Guy

We sent one of our import guys to cover the 2016 NMCA West Street Car Nationals at Auto Club Dragway… Needless to say, he’s a fan now.

I’ve shot a ton of drag racing over the past decade and a half. Seen lots of records broken, met lots of talented racers and hugely impressive teams, and have had the privilege witnessing at full-tilt (seeing, hearing, feeling) some of the most iconic machines to grace the sport. I’ve loved every minute of it. And then it all seemed to fade away.

Auto Club Dragway

This was import/sport compact drag racing—1,500hp turbocharged four-cylinders and 2,000hp inline-sixes, FWD econoboxes blasting 7-second quarter-miles (9 seconds in all-motor trim) and Japanese muscle cars rivaling their American brothers. Packed stands, well-funded race teams, a prospering industry. No matter who you were, if you had an appreciation for speed and race engineering, it was an impressive thing.

Drag Racing

But all the well-funded and fast race teams of the day couldn’t match the number of street-car enthusiasts looking for cheap thrills, hoping to be a part of the action with rushed builds and cut corners. For every one of those record-breaking, 7-second FWD blasts there were dozens of botched burnouts, missed stagings, breaks at the line and lots of downtime from oil spewed down the strip, by enthusiasts’ ill-prepared quests to have fun.

Drag Racing

Such does not seem to be the case with NMCA drag racing, as made evident at the 5th Annual Energy Suspension NMCA West Street Car Nationals in Fontana, California.

That’s What We Like to See

As impressive as building a FWD econobox to churn out 1,500hp and blast an 8-second ¼-mile E.T. is, there’s plenty to be said about tuning a thoroughbred RWD performance car to make upwards of three times that amount of power and turn consistent 4-second 1/8s through multiple rounds of qualifying and eliminations. Such was the case in ProCharger Limited Street, where racer James Lawrence and his venerable 2001 Camaro won the field with a 4.82 E.T. just over his rival’s 4.95. And all this after racer Johnny Coleman marked the fastest pass with a blistering 4.67 E.T.

Drag Racing

Maybe more impressive was the ARP Outlaw 8.5 class, which also saw its share of 4-second passes before being won by Ben Davidow with a 5.03 E.T. Very impressive, considering the class’s 8.5-inch spec tire.

Drag Racing

Two Speeds: Fast and Still Fast

Fastest Street Car Pro Mod, Ultra Street Shootout and Top Dragster Shootout all saw winning E.T.s in the 5- and 6-second E.T. range.

Drag Racing

Drag Racing

Drag Racing

Lucas Oil 10.5, Meziere Top Sportsman, Champion Pro Comp, Jet-Hot Open Comp, MMR Mustang Madness, Edlebrock Super Quick and Gear Vendors True Street classes all saw winning E.T.s range from 7 to 9 seconds from a wide variety of classic, late-model and dragster machines, again with impressive consistency (especially in bracket racing!) and very few mishaps.

Drag Racing

Drag Racing

Drag Racing

Even classes like Calvert Racing Quick Street and the Edlebrock Bracket Showdown saw E.T.s dipping into the single digits, but more widely invited drivers of 10-12-second cars to the line. Maybe not the quickest and fastest passes of the weekend, but watching drivers control their runs down to tenths and even hundredths of a second from their dial-in times makes for some exciting racing, especially considering the number of racers in this class who drove to and from the track, in modestly modded machines without the benefit of the latest tech.

Drag Racing

Burnout

Drag Racing

Looking Forward

Maybe it’s that NMCA’s slightly older field of competitors, behind the wheels of classic and late-model American muscle cars built with timeless V8 tech, have the benefit of drawing on experience and a stable aftermarket like the sport compact guys are developing today. Maybe it’s that NMCA West’s relaxed, four-season schedule allows racers more time to prepare between each round than sport compact heyday’s multiple series and seemingly overlapping events. Maybe it’s the organization’s well-thought-out classing and digilent tech inspection.

Whatever the case, racers at the NMCA West Street Car Nationals were fast, consistent and reliable enough—and knew all the right staging and racing strategies—to keep the drag racing competitive, exciting for fans and steadily moving all weekend. If ever there was an example of what organized drag racing should be (or should aim to become), this is it. We can’t wait to see more.

View more photos from NMCA’s event at Auto Club Dragway in the gallery below, and see our coverage from the NMCA West Spring Nationals.

 

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