As a fan, a writer, an announcer, or in any other light, drag racing has always been a sport about details to me. Some people get wound up in the macro element of things with the huge noise, smoke, bright paint, and flashy elements of the show. They have every right to be, and I am not casting judgment on them whatsoever. I’d never question anyone’s motives about being a racing fan of any stripe, just understand for the purposes of this column that my enjoyment and attraction to the sport shows up in some of the less obvious places at the track. For example, the most endearing image that I can conjure in any form of motorsports is summed up perfectly in the lead photo on this column.
An entire team jammed into the back of a dually truck heading down the return road with the horn beeping, waving to the crowd, and on the way to collect their victorious, or losing, driver. It is human emotion on display in its purest form, and watching both sides feed off it is one of my favorite things in all the world. It seems like nothing, but I can promise you that the people in that truck and the people waving back from the stands remember those moments and on some level that keeps ’em coming back.
Before my BangShift travel schedule picked up to what it is today, I was the primary announcer at New England Dragway for a decade or so. I always used to freak out and go nuts when the teams would run well and then they would head down the return road to pick their driver up. Now, it is like tradition at the place to celebrate those moments. I’d like to think that maybe some of my enthusiasm for those scenes made it into the minds of the fans and now it is something that they really like to do.
If you have ever seen the movie Bull Durham you’ll remember the scene where Kevin Costner (who plays a baseball catcher) is talking to Tim Robbins (who plays a pitcher) and he says, “Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls; it’s more democratic.”
Such is my feeling on enclosed tow vehicles with crews loaded in them to get their drivers because everyone’s getting robbed of the experience—both the fans and the crew.
Now, I am certainly not taking points off of anyone’s operation for their choice of vehicle to drag their race car around with but there’s a marked difference between the fan reaction involving a pickup load of people and an SUV with a couple of random arms flapping out a window. All of the teams on the big NHRA Mello Yello series use SUVs to haul their cars around the pits now. Sure, there is a safety factor we’re talking about here and that is probably most of the reason. That and apparently they feel it looks more professional, but the soul of drag racing lives in the beds of those pickup trucks. It lives in the greasy hands excitedly flapping back and forth to grandstands full of fathers and sons and mothers and daughters that are flapping their hands in return.
When you spend a weekend at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California, and experience the energy, the environment, the love of drag racing that is literally oozing out of people’s pores at the place, you really get a feel of what things may have been like a decade or three back. It isn’t exactly the same, but it is damned sure closer to it.
It is awesome to watch race cars run down the track at full throttle, but when you get to see one roll back by you, either being pulled or under its own power, and you get to scream and yell to a group of people that busted ass to make their car go fast, it adds a big element to the fan experience.
From personal experience I can tell you that at the U.S. Nationals during the “parade of the elephants” heading up the return road before the Mopar Hemi Shootout I nearly welled up. It is fantastic to see all that iron roll by at low speed on their way to do battle. Talk about getting goosebumps! It was killer.
For dozens of reasons, you need to put Famoso on your bucket list. Whether it is for an NHRA Reunion race, the March Meet, or one of their Saturday Night Nitro shows. The place represents all that is right with drag racing and the history of the sport. It has rough edges and doesn’t apologize for them. It has history to beat the band. It has soul, and most importantly, it has a chase road that runs every team with a tow vehicle in front of a quarter-mile of grandstands where they can revel in their triumphs or receive some support in their defeats.
The next time you are at Any Dragstrip, USA, for an event and a load of greasy, tired, surely all-volunteer crew guys comes rolling by, make sure you scream, yell, and wave. You’ll be taking part in one of drag racing’s old-school and most endearing traditions … and I promise you that the people you are yelling at will get a huge lift from your efforts.