NHRA Drag Racing: A Weekend Out With the Boys

This is the third year my son and I have made the trek to Ennis, Texas to watch in awe as top fuel nitromethane dragsters blow down the track, vibrating the hair on our arms, punching us in the chest and causing all of the car alarms in the parking lot to sound in a chorus of chaos.

The National Hot Rod Association finals are a sight to behold.

Old downtown Fort Worth has a regularly scheduled cattle run down the main street, promptly at 1:00pm and 4:00pm.

Our journey began at our friend’s house at 9:00 am on Saturday.  We drove down to Dallas that morning, ate lunch and then checked in to the Motel 6 at 1:00pm.  After unloading our gear we drove to Fort Worth to tour the old downtown district where we saw a car show, a vintage train station and a longhorn cattle run.  There was bluegrass music, a large wooden maze, a mechanical bull and several other sights and sounds.  Conner nearly used up the battery on his iPod taking pictures and video of all the things to see.

After this, we traveled to the China Dragon Buffet, a fully stocked Chinese food fest with everything from oysters on the halfshell to crab to Mongolian stir fry.  After downing most of the restaurant’s food supply, we ventured back to the motel to take in an OU vs. Missouri game and jeered as OU seemed to be rather apathetic about winning. 

After a good night’s sleep, we woke, packed up and left for the speedway in Ennis at 6:30 with a stop at Whataburger for breakfast.  The speedway in Ennis sits in the middle of a very large field and when we arrived people were already parking in the field and setting up various grilling devices, canopies and lawn chairs.  A quick walk to the gate and we were instantly struck with the strange aromas of corn dogs, funnel cake and other treats, soon to be replaced with the smells of burned rubber, nitromethane and hot steel.

We had pit passes which allowed us to wander around behind the scenes and stand close to the action as pit crews worked on the massive dragster engines.  Each piston is about the size of a human head, and we watched several races where those pistons shot out of the sides of cars as they sped down the track, coughing out jets of brief fire.  There is nothing more exhilerating or at the same time toxic than the experience of being present at the firing up of one of those engines, the noxious chemicals in the exhaust causing eyes to burn and feet to flee as one exits the area for fresher air. (They actually sell military grade gas masks at the event.)  The noise of it is deafening.  Thundering the ground with ripples of sound waves that sound like someone popping giant mutant popcorn kernels, the engines vibrate the body with massive shockwaves of sound.

The day was hot, reaching a humid 94 degrees fahrenheit by afternoon, but the track temperature reached an amazing 138 degrees fahrenheit that day, causing a difficult run for most drivers.  Many of them slid around on the track halfway down, but thankfully no one was injured.  Most of the top fuel cars can reach speeds of 400 plus miles per hour on the quarter mile track, their tires stretching outward as the centrifugal force pulls the rubber outward.  The tires only hold 12 psi, and will begin to blister after several runs down the track.  The most amazing thing is not just the sound of it all or the spectacle, but the cost.  Most of the cars cost $40,000 in maintenance for only one run down the track.  There is obviously a great need for corporate sponsorship.

We ate lunch our usual way, grilling bratwurst and drinking water and soda, and Bill brought his awesome home made guacamole dip and cajun shrimp dip…and the best home made salsa on the planet.  We sat under Allan’s canopy and joked around, ribbed each other and had some “guy” time. 

After a long day of loud engines, alcohol and nitromethane fumes, brutal sun and heat, we retired to the truck for the long ride home.  Conner fell asleep in my lap like he did when he was much smaller, and I reflected on the weekend wistfully, wondering if we would make the trip again next year.  I try not to plan out my excursions that far in advance, because I never know how much money we will have from year to year, but as always, we will try to go again.

The boys just need a day out.

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