Nitro, and alcohol, and gasoline! Oh my!

Illustration for article titled Nitro, and alcohol, and gasoline! Oh my!

I attended my first NHRA event this weekend at the 4-Wide Nationals, and wow, all I can think about is the noise and the feeling of the fuelers making a run. First of all, if you've never been to an NHRA pro event, you should go, at least once. I'm not sure I'll be back again, but it's certainly something I'm glad I experienced once.


The sound and the feeling of 4 Top Fuel or Funny Cars going by at once is indescribable (but I'll try). The noise shakes your body, your eyes get blurry from the vibrations, even with earplugs in it's still unbelievably loud. If you take the earplugs out, just to hear them idle after the burnout, it's still almost painfully loud. It only last a few seconds, but it's an extremely intense few seconds, even from 500 feet away from the track. I can't imagine what it would be like in the cars or next to the track.

The picture is of the mean-looking track prep tractors they have at Z-Max. They have four wide tires on the back, which they slowly rotate backwards while dragging along the track surface to lay rubber, it's pretty cool. They're all black, scary looking things that I wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley.


I managed to get a look at one Top Fuel test fire in the morning before their first run. We were wandering the pits aimlessly, and heard a car start up. We put our fingers in our ears and watched. The noise was incredible, shaking your body. Then we noticed that nobody had gas masks on, and the tires weren't spinning. Hmm. Oh, that's not even the car that's testing, it's actually behind that car, and behind an RV. So we walk around towards it, and the noise gets even louder and your chest feels like it will explode. When they blip the throttle the air vibrates, your eyes get blurry, everyone jumps, the smell of nitro fills the air, it's incredible. We were lucky to be upwind so we didn't get the eye burning, nose searing experience of a huge cloud of unburned nitro.

Other than the fuelers there's still a TON of racing to watch. Pro Stock cars are awesome, gasoline burning machines, with a totally different sound, not quite as mean, a little higher rpm, and some extremely close racing. Pro Stock Motorcycle I didn't really care for that much, they're about as much a stock motorcycle as I'm a dinosaur. At least Pro Stock cars look somewhat, a little bit, like a car, and can turn left and right a little bit. Steering the motorcycles seems like it's mostly just hopes and wishes and lots of body english.


The non-pro classes are a ton of fun to watch, but not quite the same noise and vibration experience of the fuelers. The top alcohol classes are a lot of fun to watch, and they race heads up, no index, around 5.2 seconds to the quarter. They can use either nitro or a blown alcohol engine, and the difference in sound between them is extreme. The nitro sounds mean, the alcohol with the blower all you can hear is the blower whine. When they switch them over from alcohol to nitro after the burnout, the engine note changes completely.

The index classes are fun, except for the electronic timed Super Comp and Super Gas (8.90 and 9.90 index, respectively). They launch off the line, then basically idle to 330 feet, then accelerate again to hit their index, and all the driver does it keep their foot flat. It's boring to watch and a little counter to what racing should be, as far as I'm concerned. The other index classes are fun though, all about reaction time and consistency, with no electronic aids to hit your index, just skill.


It's a ton of different classes and different cars to watch, and it's interesting to see the range. All the way from earth shattering, air destroying, pavement ripping Top Fuel running 3.7 seconds to the 1000 feet, to a 2014 Chevy Silverado Full Cab, who had an index around 15.5 to 1/4 if I remember correctly. He red-lighted though, so we didn't get to the see him race an 11 second Camaro drag car. Sure is interesting to watch someone leave 4 seconds ahead and then get caught at the line.

They even had some junior dragsters out there for a show. One cylinder, 1/2 scale model of a fuel car, running to the 1/8th mile. Some of them as quick as 7.9 @ 85 mph, which is pretty damn fast for an 1/8th mile on one cylinder, that would be around a 12.5 1/4.


Overall, I think it's something everyone should do at least once. Wander the pits, watch all the races (you can skip the Super Comp and Super gas, seriously), listen to the noise (please bring ear protection, I think you could literally lose your hearing if you didn't protect your eyes in some way), feel the percussion. I knew it would be intense, but I had no idea what the Top Fuel passes would feel like. If there was a $10 ticket that you got to watch just a couple fueler passes, in 10 minutes or something, I'd take everyone I know. Once you spend the money you feel like you need to stay the whole day, and it is a long day in the heat and the noise, especially if you don't follow NHRA super closely, so you don't really know the drivers in all the classes and have favorites and stuff.

For those of you going to Z-Max, spend the extra few bucks to sit on the main grandstand side, near the Nitro pits. You'll get to the pits quicker, and you'll have a better seat for the instant replays and stuff. From the other side (where we sat) you can't see the TV, so you don't get to watch any instant replays, which is a shame, and it's also kind of a long walk to the pits, so you miss more racing if you go (and you definitely should go).


picture courtesy NHRA.

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