There are certain themes that have stirred the same feelings in human beings for thousands of years. Granted, time and circumstances have changed lots of stuff, but of the ones that have endured there is a singular theme today that’s as applicable as it was thousands of years ago.
Back in the Roman days when their armies would march to far-off lands, obliterate an enemy, and then return home, those soldiers would be greeted with songs, dancing, and basically all the adulation a human being could ever want. The exact same phenomenon has been present in the world of drag racing since the late 1950s, and it is going as strong (or stronger) than ever these days. Stick with me for a minute here and I’ll explain.
In 1959, California drag racers became so annoyed at reports of some guy from Florida outrunning them so they called him out to compete at the March Meet in Bakersfield. That guy was Don Garlits. Garlits loaded up his car and his wife, Pat, and headed west. While the March Meet was not a big success for him, he started beating up on the California guys the following race and never stopped. He came back to the East Coast a legend, and his star was launched. Through the 1960s it became an incredible mark of pride for anyone outside of California to leave their small hamlet and head west with a Dragster, Funny Car, or creation of their own design. Just the act of going elevated them among their peers, even if their brains got beaten in while on the grand adventure.
In the 1970s-era of barnstorming Funny Cars, many gritty racers rose to fame simply because of the fact that they were racing at a different track in front of a different crowd multiple times a week. It was drag racing’s version of vaudeville, but again, hero status was achieved by the participation in such madness no matter the level of success or the duration.
A little more than 10 years ago an event called Hot Rod Magazine Drag Week came quietly onto the scene and offered yet another area for hero worship. Guys who have never had a sticker on their car in history wax their Drag Week windshield banners. You can hear the gasps when people see them at local car shows or drag races.
Fast forward to today and it is the world of radial and small-tire drag racing that has been a breeding ground for the current crop of warriors setting off for fame and fortune in such exotic locations as Valdosta, Georgia; Denton, Texas; and Huntsville, Alabama. Social Media takes the experience of hometown fans and enhances it further. Now we no longer have to live on the myths and tall tales of the travelers, we can take the journey with them, and it is fantastic.
As I write this, the American Outlaws Live event is happening at the Texas Motorplex, and racers in small-tire and big-tire cars you have never heard of towed to Texas in the desperate hopes of busting their way into some of the most diverse and difficult fields in history. Whether they make it or not, they’ll get the hero’s welcome, and when local guys see them in the pits they’ll have the honor of hearing things like, “Hey, that’s the guy who went to Texas! He’s a badass.”
So what is it? Why do we elevate those who go out into the great unknown to battle foes that they have never met and may never see again? The answer is simple. We see a little of ourselves in those people. Maybe we have raced with them at home for years, maybe we thrashed with them that one time in the pits, maybe we actually beat them a time or two. The bottom line is that when the hometown guy hits the road for glory, he takes a little bit of us with him, and we love it. Maybe it is your turn next.
We can promise that you won’t regret it and you won’t be traveling alone.