If you're into drag racing and constantly looking for ways to whittle down your e.t., then you know at some point you're going to need your NHRA competition license. The fact is once you enter the 9.99 zone or go faster than 135 mph in the quarter-mile, you need a piece of paper that says you can legally do so. You have a couple of options to obtain your license: You can run down the tarmac in your own ride or you can enter a driving school. I opted for the latter by enrolling in Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School (FHDRS).
Why did I decide to head back to school? The very first race I entered was back in 2002 in a power-adder class, requiring stock-style suspension and limiting just about everything imaginable, from the type of camshaft to the tires. At that time the top guys were just dipping into the 9s, with the rest of the field scattered all over the 10-second range. I had a completely new combination and chassis, and didn't have seat time for several years. We got the car together at the last minute, stuck it on the chassis dyno, and loaded up the car for the eight-hour tow to Arizona.
Looking back, it feels a bit irresponsible to run an untested car, but at the time I wasn't going to miss that event. Even worse was knowing that if all went well, there was a good chance of dipping into the 9s. Again, looking back, not the smartest thing to do, especially considering that the only seat time I'd had was in an upper-11-second street car. To some it may not seem like a big deal, but the difference between 120 and 140 mph in the quarter-mile is pretty big.
To make a long story short, everything went well and the first pass netted me with a 10.08-at-139-mph run. It felt great, and the initial 1.51 short time was a kick in the pants, only I was told by the track officials to back it down since I didn't have my NHRA competition license. This car eventually ran in the mid-8s with a buddy's motor, but with my dwindling free time, I bowed out of the driver's seat and the car evolved rather quickly without me. I knew I had no business trying to pilot it without a license.
Fast-forward to today. With our 10.5 tire-packing third-gen Camaro in its initial building phases, there's never been a better time to dust off the driving suit and get back in the saddle.
When I started asking around about driving schools, the name that kept coming up was Frank Hawley. While FHDRS is based out of Gainesville, Florida, it also offers a complete schedule of remote classes for its Super Gas Firebird door car and Super Comp dragster program at various tracks across the county. In this case there was a program being offered at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, only an hour away by plane. Even cooler, Frank Hawley himself was to be our instructor.
The school tends to get booked quickly and seats are limited, so do yourself a favor and plan ahead. Once you enroll, the school will send you a course manual along with all of the necessary forms to fill out, including the most important document: the dreaded physical. Believe me, I'm the last one who likes to go to the doctor, but it's for your safety and really isn't that big a deal. Once you get the green light from the doc, fax back your paperwork and you're set.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to read the materials before the first day of class. Simply put, it doesn't matter if you have experience behind the wheel; without reading it, you're going to be behind from the moment you step into the classroom. The manual is a quick read, outlining the complete course in detail to discussing the schedule, safety equipment, and the specs of the car you're piloting.
What We Did
Learned driving techniques with the best-and even managed to earn our NHRA competition license
Where Was It
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
When inquiring about the power-plant, Hawley was adamant to say that these engines have minimal changes, namely their choice of exhaust, but that will vary for any chassis being used. Other than that, these 572ci big-blocks are exactly the way you get them from GM Performance Parts. If you're looking for something similar, Pace Parts offers the deluxe package for $14,459, including the water pump, carburetor, distributor, intake, and spark plug wires. If you take into consideration what it takes to build a reliable powerplant of this caliber, that's a mighty fine deal. As a testament to these engines, Hawley uses these mills exclusively, reporting no problems whatsoever. Considering the vigorous use of them at the school, these are proven packages.
Super Gas Chassis Specs
Regardless of your background, you're obviously at the school for a reason, whether it's to get familiar with drag racing firsthand, getting a refresher course, or for the opportunity to get feedback from the best. For those of you attempting to get your competition license, the thing to keep in mind is that the school is on a very strict schedule, meaning everyone will get the same number of passes. If you listen well, do everything as described, and show control of the vehicle, there's a good chance you will leave with the proper paperwork to obtain your license. However, simply attending the school is no guarantee you will get it. That said, if a certain run isn't signed off for whatever reason and you're adamant about getting licensed, then you'll appreciate that the school offers additional runs at the end of the session at a predetermined rate.
At the end of the two-day seminar, I managed to leave the school as a better driver-and earned my NHRA competition license. While there were so many things I learned in a relatively short time, I will say that regardless of your background, leave your previous driving history and attitude at the door. There's a lot to learn and you'll want to put all of your efforts into paying attention and absorbing everything being said. More importantly, I've always understood the inherent dangers that come with our sport, but the program taught me to treat driving in a well-versed and extremely disciplined manner. When I get behind the wheel now, I have a preset regimen I go through, eliminating any fear of forgetting something and allowing me to completely concentrate on the light and focus on driving. Don't take my word for it-add this to your bucket list. Seriously, if the opportunity arises to attend Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School, I highly recommend it!