Tales From the Drags: Episode 1

Welcome to "Tales from the Drags", a (hopefully) weekly series that will document my life as a drag strip employee and all of the havoc that that entails. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. All images found using google image search and are not photos of the actual events depicted in the text, only similar ones.

This Week: Danger to Manifold.

I usually work all weekend at the track, but this week I was only on the schedule for Sunday.


Normally Sundays are pretty low-key. We run our regular weekly bracket race classes (pro, super pro, super pro bikes, and sportsman) alongside test and tune sessions. The bracket racers are generally our best customers - they know the drill, they show up on time for their class, and they rarely break. The guys you really need to watch out for are the test and tuners.

This Sunday is no different - our bracket classes run like clockwork, and because it's early in the season, the fields are fairly small. Even T&T is going well, as it's comprised mostly of a few street cars and some of our regular bracket racers breaking in their new setups.

There are two notable exceptions to this.

One is a top alcohol dragster dialing in his setup and learning the ropes. These things are seriously quick, packing around 3500 horsepower and running in the high five second range. This guy was definitely our fastest car on track today, and as a result, everyone perks up a little every time he makes his way into the lanes.

The other is a track regular who owns a street driven C6 vette that runs low 10's on nitrous. From the outside it looks just like a nice 'vette with some aftermarket wheels, but if you get a peek in the rear window you'll see the well-hidden bars of a roll cage.


On the street this car is a real terror, almost as fast as a Veyron. At the strip, though, it's just another guy running 10's. There are so many cars on any given weekend going that fast that we generally don't even notice them anymore. There are bracket cars running their third of fourth season on the same engine that run tens all day, hotlapping the whole time. This 'vette stands out only because it is a full interior street car on DOT tires; and because today he is looking for a nine second pass.

This means upping the nitrous shot, and on his first pass, he nails a 9.94. Everyone is stoked, even the hyper-jaded employees are clapping and smiling.


Next session he comes out again, lines up, and launches hard. When the nitrous hits about 60 feet out, the tires start to spin, and the car lurches sideways for a second before he lifts. No good.

On his third pass, he lines up, launches, and the same thing happens, except this time his tires spin a little bit harder than the time before. He doesn't lift but catches the slide and attempts to ride it out. It's no use - the 'vette refuses to hook and the tires let go completely. The motor zings to redline in an instant and finally he lifts; simultaneously there is an almighty WHOMP and a fireball shoots out from under the car.


I start moving towards the track truck, watching the 'vette, waiting for the flames to stop, but they won't, and now I'm running. The starter's voice crackles in my headset: "we got a fire guys, go go go". We speed to the scene, fourth in line behind the starter on a quad kept next to the starter's box for just this kind of scenario, the track ambulance, and another official on another quad.

A few extinguisher's worth of fire cap and halon later, and the fire is out. The driver got out as soon as the car was stopped and he's sitting against the track wall now, looking dejected and out of breath but otherwise OK. The vette's hood is open, and I take a quick peek inside.


The intake manifold looks like this, but worse. It's split in three or four places, and the culprit is obvious - a nitrous backfire. Too much spray and not enough timing blew the thing apart, possibly due to a sensor failure of the like. The 'vette leaves on a flatbed, a little charred and very dirty, but totally rebuildable. It will live to fight another day.


The driver has a positive outlook on the whole thing. "Better a new motor than a new car" he quips, and I can't help but agree. I'm just happy it didn't get worse, as it easily could have if we hadn't gotten to the car as quickly as we had.

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