What do Greg Anderson, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon, Anton Brown, Ashley Force, Robert Hight, Tony Pedregon, Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrance, Brandon Bernstein, and Whit Bazemore all have in common? They all attended the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School. Some went to tune up their skills and for some it was the jumping off point to a career in driving. Since 1985 the school has graduated over 25,000 drivers.
You are probably thinking to yourself; well these guys are professionals and have special access to things like this. Usually that is the case, but not in this instance. You see Frank’s school is open to the general public and anyone can get strapped into a 500+hp dragster and blast the 1320. The school is not at just one track, Frank and the crew set up shop at multiple locations like Fontana, CA, Houston, TX, Gainesville, FL, St Louis, MO, Norwalk, OH, and Reading, PA.
Here’s a little background on Frank. Licensed to drive dragsters at the age of 16, Frank has spent his life driving some of the fastest machines on the planet. He’s been named one of NHRA’s Top 50 drivers of all time. He’s in the International Drag Racing and Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fames. The man has Nine NHRA National Championships and is one of only 14 drivers to ever win National titles in both Top Fuel Dragsters and Nitro Funny Cars. Frank has taught thousands of drivers how to improve their performance, and when not teaching classes, he consults with many NHRA’s drivers.
The Teachers While Frank is a great teacher the school needs more than just one so Frank has staffed his school with a few notable people including Jack Beckman 2012 NHRA Nitro Funny Car World Champ, Jeff Arend driver for Jim Dunn racing, Jimmy Montgomery three-time Super Pro Track Champion at Gainesville Raceway and Robert Hight driver of the AAA funny car on John Forces team.
3 The Cars These cars are a ’full- sized’ competition ready dragsters. There are two versions of the cars depending on what class you are attending. For the dragster adventure course you are put in a 230-inch wheel based dragster running a GM crate ZZ454 and BTE 2 speed Powerglide. These cars are capable of 9.60 but are slowed to 10s for NHRA rules. (You need a physical exam to run 9s).
If you are attending a Licensing course then you will be put into the proper car. For the Super Comp it’s a 235-inch wheel based dragster running a GM crate 572R with 720hp. These cars are capable of 8.20. Licensing course include Super Comp, Super Gas, Pro Stock motorcycle, Top Dragster, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car.
The Track The Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, CA is a new location to the school. You see up until recently there was a noise issue going on with track and its future was in question, but with overwhelming support of the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA), National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), Lucas Oil, MAVTV, K&N and Specialty Equipment Manufactures Association (SEMA), Auto Club Dragway is open for business. Our Event
We were invited to attend the Dragster Adventure Challenge that had all the attendees competing in tournament style elimination just like the Pro drivers. The day started with a brief class room session where Frank introduced his crew, filled us in about the days schedule, gave us an overview of the cars and then went straight into how to do the burn out and stage the cars.
Once the classroom stuff was complete we were assigned proper racing gear and then by a lottery style drawing we were assigned cars and one-on-one teachers. Once you get to driving Frank mans the starting lights so he can really watch what you are doing. Before getting into the cars for the first time Frank will give you one more short tutorial on how the Christmas Tree works.
Then it was time to squeeze in the cars for the first time. And I’m here to tell you these cars are pretty tight, especially with all the gear on. Once fully seated and strapped in it was time to unleash the beast! Hitting the start button on these is nothing like firing up your car. There is something different about having a gnarly Big Block a few inches behind you. Its like you could feel the spark plugs firing. At this point the car was at an idle and my adrenalin was at full throttle.
For the first pass Frank had us run to half-track just to make sure we were competent enough for a full pass. Either way it was still nerve racking. The teachers are there to guide you right into the burn out box. It was time, foot off brake and accelerator to the floor the rear tires instantly go up in smoke. If only for a second its still awesome.
After the short burn out it was time to inch forward till the first staging light turned on. This is pretty hard to judge considering the front tires are way out in front of you. From the drivers seat its like looking down an arrow with two wheels. A little more inching till the second light illuminated. In a flash three ambers lit up and it was time to swap feet, brake off, gas down, way down…push it through the floor down…In the time it took you to read that sentence the half track run was over. The G-force on take off was a visceral experience. I pictured a cartoon cloud shaped like a dragster at the starting line after I took off. Not that was the case but man I can only imagine what the pros are feeling in the top fuel cars.
Driving down the return road seemed to take forever, but if you didn’t spaz out or mess anything up you were pulled right in for the first full pass. Nerves seemed to calm a bit but still on red alert. One more burn out, pre-stage, stage, GO!!!! It’s like being shot out of a gun. The G’s are so strong you can actually feel your eyes pull back in your head—awesome. During the full pass there were two things to things running through my head keep the car straight and the gas on the floor. That sounds easy enough on paper but with everything going on it’s pretty easy to inadvertently lift.
We were allowed on more full pass after the cars cooled down. Then we broke for lunch and then it was time for the Challenge portion of the even. We were placed on a board by our reaction time and then it was a dial in bracket race. Using the time slips from the previous passes you picked your dial in—10.49 in my case. Then it was time for the first side-by-side pass. If the solo run was exciting then this is uber-exciting. Racing side-by-side turn up the heat so to speak because now you want to win. This is where mistakes get easy to make and we saw a fair share of red lights. I would like to tell you that I ended up winning, but the truth was I went out in the third round. I got tree’d by Donnie Couch who ended up winning the entire day. Win or lose the experience was one of those things I can cross off my bucket list. If you have ever wondered what its like to drive a dragster now you don’t have to invest a small fortune building a car, you can just sign up for a class where Frank will let you drive his.