OK, let’s play the game “True Confessions.” Nope, you won’t have to reveal any deep, dark secrets, like the time you might have put those white plastic vampire’s teeth on your sister’s pet Yorkie. She’s still angry at your best friend, because she just knows he did it, but you don’t have the heart to tell her what really happened. You also don’t want that picture she took of you watching “Dancing With The Stars” ending up on Facebook. So, your lips are sealed. Forever.
So, you ready to play? Cool. Let’s give it a shot. Again, you have nothing to worry about. Really!
Here’s your question. Maybe a friend has asked you, “I know you love the NHRA, but why? I watched it once on TV, and it’s just a bunch of people driving fast. A race is over in a few seconds, and listening to the cars must be really painful, sort of like standing about 20 yards behind a 747 on takeoff, because everyone I saw was covering their ears. I just don’t get it!”
See, that wasn’t so bad. And you thought this might be scary. Nah.
Oh yeah.Those poor folks who don’t understand your love of racing? They’re clueless.
Alright, so only you know the reasons you dig these mega-hot rods, and you probably have several. Whether it’s the blazing speeds, the horsepower these cars possess that could light up Detroit, or the fact that the volume does feel like you’re inside a jet engine, you just love it.
Game over. See? That was easy. No harm, no foul.
Now, it’s “True Confessions” time. For me.
I gotta tell you something sort of embarrassing. Several years ago, I was one of those folks who fell into the “Drag racing is just plain weird” category. Nope, I didn’t get it. Anyone who is reading this, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. You might be thinking, “Dude. You write about this stuff! Weren’t you a fan since birth?”
Nope. Sorry. Now, don’t stop reading this article. Hang in there with me for a moment.
So, what happened? Well, I became a convert. Yep, to the earth-shattering volume of the cars, the insane speeds, and even the smell of nitro. And it only took about five hours.
Here’s what happened. My editor at the local paper asked me to cover the NHRA event that was taking place in my town three days later. His words? “Talk to some fans, get some driver quotes, just give us an overall feel.”
An “overall feel.” Great. I don’t tell him, but I’m absolutely clueless what that means. Ask me anything about our town’s high school football squads, or our local college basketball team, and I’m good. The NHRA? Two cars line up. They race. One wins, one loses. Big deal.
Folks, was I ever wrong. Big time.
Later, Friday rolled around. Raceday.
3:35pm–I head out to the track.
3.47pm–The parking attendant waves me through to Media Parking. With the window rolled down while searching for a spot, a thunderous noise assaults my senses like never before, and I almost drive my truck into a ditch. I would swear I’ve just been hammered by a runaway train. What in the world just happened?
3:49pm–Running towards the Media Room, the train sound returns, and the ground actually begins to shake. The noise rattles roofs a mile away, and it’s also probably registering on the Richter Scale in some underground Colorado bunker. I search for anything to shove in my ears, even considering a dirty, mustard-covered hot dog wrapper I locate on the ground.
3:56pm–Run like crazy in the direction of the Media Room, praying the sound won’t return.
3:59pm–Entering the Media Room is like a trip to an electronic superstore. There are more computers in the room than in NASA Mission Control, and the terminology being tossed around is just as confusing. Interval timers, cubic-inch displacement. Whatever. It’s all greek to this guy.
4:01pm–I find my seat. Nice. No more train assaults.
4:02pm–Two racers launch off the starting line. The room’s windows rattle. Wait a minute. I’m indoors, and the building is shaking. Not good.
4:15pm–More racing. Looking out the window, I see that fans are allowed onto the track behind the starting line to watch. Incredibly, drivers walk by and shake hands with folks, even standing next to them to watch the pairings. Try asking a major league baseball player to sit with you during a game, then wave goodbye to him when his security guard rushes you to the parking lot.
5:02pm–A very nice lady walks over and introduces herself as the publicist for one of the teams and asks who I’m writing for. She learns I’m there to get a few driver quotes, then asks, “Would you like to visit with Ron Capps?” Great! But one teeny problem. I have no questions for him. Nada. She says, “I’ll give him a call.” I gurgle out a “Sure!” while thinking, “I didn’t believe something like this would even be possible!”
5:05pm–Questions for Ron are written. Frantically.
5:15pm–We arrive at Ron’s merchandise trailer, and he waves us in. Wait a second. No bodyguards are present, no “people” to allow us into Ron’s world. This is totally weird. Try getting this close to the stars of other professional sports without a background check and a body frisking that would make law enforcement blush. “Welcome to my office” he laughs, shaking hands. Sitting in a corner, the tape rolls and off we go.
5:35pm–Still laughing after 20 minutes, we exit the trailer while Ron stays behind to meet fans. I learned that as a child, he dreamed of being Don Garlits, and that he loves listening to Metallica. OK, so it wasn’t a talk about hole shots or burnouts, but who cares?
6:00pm–Wandering through an incredibly-crowded pit area, kids are invited to have their picture taken while sitting inside a Top Fueler. The line is long. Seriously long.
6:19pm–Spandex-wearing beauties hand out product samples, all while posing for photographs with very agreeable members of the male species, including lots of dad-types. Strangely, no wives seem to be anywhere in the neighborhood. Lines are really long, much longer than the line to be photographed in the Top Fueler. The dads walk away with curiously goofy smiles.
6:37pm–Huge autograph lines snake around each tent during the many driver appearances. Every picture request is granted, and each fan is greeted with a smile and some small talk. Try walking up after a current NFL matchup to meet your professional football hero. Good luck, and make sure to have your running shoes strapped on tight. You’ll need them to stay attached to your feet while being chased off by his “posse.”
7:22pm— “Let me call him and see if he can meet with you” answers the publicist to my request to meet with Tony Schumacher. He pulls out his cell phone.
7:23pm— “He’s ready now,” the publicist states. “Let’s go to his trailer.” This time, the questions are more than ready.
7:30pm–Walking into the U.S. Army pit, we watch as a little-bitty boy who is wearing a Schumacher t-shirt shyly walks up to meet his favorite driver. Tony drops to a knee, asks the child if he wants an autograph, then scrawls his name in silver Sharpie after the boy happily nods yes. Seconds later, the little guy leaves with his mom, but three steps later, turns and rushes back to hug Schumacher’s leg, who returns the gesture by hugging him around his tiny shoulders. He shakes my hand and we climb the steps into his trailer. Still no bodyguards anywhere in sight.
7:45pm–Schumacher talks about his love for the music of Jimmy Buffet and Bob Seger. After discussing the people he would invite to his fantasy dinner party (Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Jesus, an Army general) we shake hands. As we leave, Tony returns to visit with fans, and everyone is smiling.
7:46pm–Leaving the area, I see Ron Capps watching a large TV screen that’s playing in the visitor’s area. No handlers around, no security team to keep fans at a distance. Nearby guests finish their supper, stand up to leave, then walk out after offering Capps their best wishes for the next day’s qualifying. He smiles and jokes with everyone.
8:20pm–Qualifying sessions for the day are over, and the 40,000 folks head for the exits. Everyone is happy. Not only did they see their heroes, but they also got up close and personal with them, making an instant connection with those drivers who before today had only graced their home television screens. “Ron Capps shook my hand!” shrieks a small child wearing a t-shirt covered in driver autographs and mustard stains. Though it’s the end of a very long day, even the little girl’s parents are smiling.
8:47pm–I was originally asked by my editor to “…get some driver quotes and an overall feel of the event.” What was my overall feel? Pretty darn good. See, the formula for the NHRA’s success is incredibly simple: combine the All-American sport of drag racing with the opportunity to actually meet the heroes of the sport. They will provide you with an autograph, a photo op, a handshake, and some small talk, and no, you’ll never be chased away by a bodyguard the size of a large tree. Mix all those ingredients and you’ve got an instant classic.
That’s why I love drag racing.
Sorry. That’s why we love drag racing.
Oh yeah. Remember to keep the story about putting the fake vampire teeth on your sister’s Yorkie all to yourself. Otherwise, the photo of you watching “Dancing” will go viral. Ouch.