It wasn't always so, however. A little more than a decade ago, virtually all racers considered electric vehicles to be glorified golf carts. That began changing in 1994, however, when the Oregon Electric
Vehicle Association decided to stage an electric drag race to show the public that environmentally-acceptable EVs could be "fun and exciting." The organization cordoned off a little street in downtown Portland, grabbed a few stop watches, and laid chalk lines on the cobblestone surface.
Wayland, however, was not about to stand for the idea of a genteel, 30-mph drag race. He found the concept offensive; it was as if someone had tried to paint a smiley face on his soul. "I thought about the 72-volt cars that could barely get out of their own way, lumbering and wheezing uphill at 30 miles per hour," Wayland recalls. "And I said, ‘We can't show this to the public.'"
He didn't. Wayland used a helicopter battery and transformed his Datsun 1200 into a 175-volt race car. "They weren't expecting cars like mine," he says now. "Here I came with my Datsun, burning rubber in all five gears and smoking the tires. Women and children were running for cover."
Then Wilde showed up. Wilde, who now runs a Washington-based electric vehicle parts company (evparts.com), unloaded his electric Mazda from the back of a trailer, smoked his tires for 200 feet, and did a "wheel stand" (in which the vehicle rears up on its hind wheels like a horse).
From that moment forward, the image of electric vehicles forever changed. And the ensuing years have reinforced the new image. The ultimate proof of this lies on the Internet. Dubé points out that an advanced Google search for his Killacycle yields hits in virtually any imaginable language - Icelandic, Latvian, Norwegian and even Esperanto. Moreover, specials by Oregon Public Broadcasting, and the Discovery Channel have immortalized the electric sport - at least within the tight drag racing community - reportedly drawing as many as a million viewers to their websites to watch the videos.
No one who knows racing, it seems, is unaware of the sudden advancement of electrics. When Wayland drives his White Zombie onto a drag strip, crowds form. "The car is like a magnet," he says. "People are shocked when they hear we've done this with a Datsun."
Indeed, the vehicles of the electric drag racing world are shocking, in more ways than one. Starting in the early 1990s, backyard mechanics began converting their gas-powered cars to pure electrics, ripping out the gas tanks and rear seats, replacing them with batteries, and then re-configuring the powertrains. When the drag racers burst onto the scene, however, the number of batteries and the associated voltage skyrocketed.
"Back in the ‘90s, the typical EV that someone built in their backyard was 72V or 96V," Wayland says. "That was the norm, and 120V was the new high-voltage standard."