Nicole Dalesandro took a break from selling ads for designnews.com and DN the magazine to attend the drag races in Joliet, Ill last Friday. Her account was so detailed, interesting and engaging, we decided to run it along with the photos and videos she brought back. Enjoy, and scroll down to see photos from the races!
Here is my story on my experience this past weekend. I spent an entire day at the racetrack and had a blast. I am truly amazed by these cars and think I could totally be a "racing chic". Well, not in the sense of racing these things myself, but I’ll definitely go back! Racer Rod Fuller told me that it gets up to 130 degrees inside of the cockpit and the drivers are wearing 20 layers of fire retardant Nomax. NO thanks!! Here is my story.
I attended the NHRA Torco Racing Fuels Nationals this past weekend at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill.
My first experience at the drag races was quite exciting. I have been to NASCAR races before, and honestly after this experience I think I’ll continue to attend drag races as It’s a perfect fit for someone like me who has a short attention span. The races run all day and each run is over so quickly. It allows you to walk through "Nitro alley" to see the vehicles, crews and drivers, grab a beer and/or some track food and then go back to your seat whenever you feel the need for speed again. And with the economy in its current state, it’s a more economical on the pocket book than the popular NASCAR. I paid $50 for an adult reserved seat on the South side with access to the pit area. The parking lot opened at 7:30am and the the pro cars began racing at 2:30. The second pass of qualifying began around 6pm, so it truly is an ALL day event. I watched all of the professional Top Fuel, Funny Cars, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycles race.
It was a very warm day, and the nitromethane-burning Top Fuel and Funny Cars must have felt the heat because during the day many of them had trouble. Once the sun went down and the drivers were onto their second attempt at qualifying many more completed the 1/4 mile drag. I was mainly focused on these super fast dragsters which run on about 90% nitromethane, an organic compound commonly used in explosives, cleaning solvents and pesticides. The other 10% is simply methanol.
I had the opportunity to meet a few of the drivers as you can see from my videos. Rod Fuller was super nice and allowed me, his newest female fan to ask a few questions after the weekend was over. Drag racing is truly a team sport and Fuller’s team is a great example of that. I watched them tear down the engine after the first race. "We struggled with our car more this weekend than ever, and we didn’t understand why. But my team has great commitment and maintained a No Quit attitude. We struggled to qualify, and after all of that struggle, 2nd place doesn’t seem so bad," Fuller said. During the final round Fuller’s Caterpillar Top Fuel dragster smoked the tires while Schumacher won the event with a 4.4 second pass.
I asked Fuller how it feels to drive the fastest accelerating machine in the world which accelerates from 0-100MPH in under a second. "I can’t describe it because there is nothing even close to reference it. The best I’ve ever heard it described is that it’s sort of like being hit by a school bus traveling 45 mph while in your car at a stop sign. And who has ever experienced that? It’s like experiencing whiplash at 6g’s." I asked Fuller to compare a dragster engine to a NASCAR engine, although the acceleration matches that of a space shuttle. "NASCAR engines produce 750-800 horsepower while Top Fuel produces 1000 horsepower in just one cylinder." Of course even I who doesn’t know the first thing about cars knows there are 8 cylinders in the engine. Wow, at 8,000 horsepower, it’s no wonder these missile-like vehicles only run for a quarter mile. And how exactly do they stop? Fuller said that he pushes the lever for the parachute 100 ft from the finish line (he only uses one chute and packs them himself). By that time the vehicle has slowed to a g-force of 2.5 to 3 g’s. Once the parachute deploys, it slows to negative 4 g’s in less than a second. It also uses carbon fiber brakes and takes about 1/4 mile to completely stop. "Stopping is the hardest part of my job" says Fuller. "After a weekend of racing my body feels beat up and I am tired. It takes about 3 days to fully recover." This is from a young man who works out 3 hours per day six days per week. I can’t imagine as a woman what my body would feel like, so I asked what he thinks of the many female drag racers who are fierce competitors. "I really give the females a lot of credit. I know how hard it is on my body and these females are also extremely fit."
And how much fuel is used to power these monsters? My own car uses gasoline which seems to cost a small fortune these days. A Top Fuel dragster uses 16 gallons of nitromethane in one pass including burn out and back up. It uses another 6 gallons in the pit for warm up. According to Fuller, the cost of nitromethane is currently $36 per gallon and he expects it may raise to $50/gallon by the end of the year. So, in one day of racing these Top Fuel dragsters used about $1600 worth of nitro for a total of about 9-10 seconds of racing time at the speed of over 320mph. Of course being a new fan to the sport I am concerned that the ticket prices will go up. "Right now if anything we want the ticket prices to come down. We have to come up with creative ways to deal with the rising cost of fuel; passing it along to our fans is not an option" commented Fuller.