:::::: Feature Stories ::::::

THE CLASS THAT REVOLUTIONIZED SPORTSMAN DRAG RACING

2-14-07-progas.jpgWe’ve all seen the current
Super Gas and other indexed pro tree classes, but have you ever wondered how
this phase of sportsman drag racing actually came into existence?

Some call the “SUPER” class style of racing as the one category of sportsman
racing that revolutionized little guy participation, and it actually can be
traced back to 1971. On a sunny day in March of that year promoter Dave Dorman
sat down with his tech officials at Redding Dragway. The promoter, track
manager Randy Liddell, and his staff had gotten together for their traditional
pre-race morning meeting. The group was going over their assigned chores for
the night's special eight-car show. Indeed, it was going to be a blast, as
local Modified Gasser favorites Bob Bunker, with his '55 Chevy, Tom Thornhill
and his 1963 Falcon, and the Yuill Brothers with their '67 Camaro were among
those expected to compete. There was one problem, though. This wild show didn't
have a name. That is, until Dorman made a joking comment.

IT'S THE GRAND START TO THE SEASON

2-13-07-pomona.jpg
Younger drag racing fans probably have
no idea how good they have it.  No, this
isn’t going to be one of those “Why I remember the good old days…” stories, nor
is it going to be about how back in the day we had to walk eight miles to
school – uphill both ways.  But having
just witnessed yet another stellar NHRA POWERade Series opening round we can’t
help but think of how things used to be for the fans.

In an age of wireless high speed
Internet connections, same day television coverage, cell phones, Blackberrys,
and iPods it’s sometimes difficult to remember how we got our drag racing news
not that many years ago.  Before there
was Drag News and National Dragster we lived and
died with each monthly issue of Hot
Rod Magazine
.  Flipping
right past the features on flathead-powered roadsters and bulbous-nosed
Mercuries we eagerly sought out the months-old coverage of an obscure points
meet at Shreveport Old Gator Dragway, or the story of Don Garlits’s exploits in
a 64-car (yeah, that’s right, a 64-car)
Top Fuel show in Bakersfield.

The coming of the two most prominent
tabloids of their day, Drag News and Dragster, satisfied our need for
vicarious speed until there was an explosion of monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly
magazines devoted to drag racing.  By the
mid-Sixties there were at least a dozen magazines devoted to the quarter-mile,
including the three flagship enthusiast publications, Hot Rod, Car Craft and Popular Hot Rodding.  

THE UNIVERSITY OF FRANK HAWLEY

2-12-07-hawley.jpgTo be the best, it helps
to learn from the best.

And in drag racing, no one
is better at teaching the little intricacies of piloting a Top Fuel Dragster, a
nitro Funny Car, or a Pro Stock hot rod down the quarter-mile than Frank
Hawley. The Canadian native's resume includes winning the 1982 and '83 NHRA
Funny Car championships, and nine national events. For the past 22 years,
Hawley has been the proprietor of the most elite drag racing school in the
country.

Frank Hawley's Drag Racing
School, with training facilities based in Gainesville, Fla. and Pomona, Calif.,
has given instruction to more than 15,000 students, and the graduates include
roughly 75 percent of the regulars on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series
tour. They include four-time champions Tony Schumacher and Gary Scelzi, 2006
Auto Club Road to the Future award winner Robert Hight, Pro Stock champions
Greg Anderson and Jason Line, and 2003 Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon, to
just name a few.

ALL IN THE FAMILY by Jeff Wolf

11-19-06-jeffwolf_2.jpg

In drag
racing, it’s all about family.
Thousands of families are involved in owning or operating teams from Top Fuel
to E.T. brackets.
The Forces fall into that category.
So do the Bernsteins.

The biggest stories of the preseason involved Ashley Force’s debut in Funny Car
and six-time champion Kenny Bernstein’s return this year to the category that
made him a motorsports icon.

 

OUR CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS

2-6-07-predictions.jpgEach year our “crack”
staff of prognosticators joins together shortly after the final test session to
determine the champions of the upcoming season. We had a 60% success rate last
season and we feel good about our chances this year. Here’s how we see it all
shaking out for 2007.

KENNY BERNSTEIN'S RETURN

2-5-07-kenny.jpgThere are some things,
like riding a bike or tying a shoe, which you never forget how to do. Is
driving a Funny Car one of them?

Kenny Bernstein certainly
hopes so.

The NHRA legend, who made
his name in the nitro-coupe class during the 1980s before retiring in 2002 as a
two-time Top Fuel champion, is returning to the driver's seat this season,
piloting the Monster Energy Dodge Charger Funny Car, beginning with this
weekend's 47th CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Bernstein, one of only
three drivers to score at least four Funny Car championships, hasn't driven a
fuel “flopper” since leaving the class after the 1989 season, but he is
expecting a smooth transition.

BAZEMORE’S OTHER FIRST SEASON

2-5-07-whit.jpgThursday is the beginning
of a new era for NHRA POWERade
Series regular Whit Bazemore.

The Indianapolis resident, a stalwart in the
Funny Car category over the past decade, will be making his debut in Top Fuel
when the 2007 begins in Pomona,
Calif. at the season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals.

Expectations are high.

Bazemore
moves to Top Fuel
after a 19-year Funny Car career, where he had scored 19 victories and annually
finished in the top 10 in the points standings. He combines his vast knowledge
and experience with the high-budget David Powers Motorsports
racing team and backing from Matco Tools.
Everything is in place to make a solid run at a series title.

But back in 1990, the situation was quite different.

THE 10.5 WIDE ISSUE

1-31-07-10_5inch.jpgBack in 1993 I was editor of the old National Muscle Car Association’s
magazine. I still recall walking through the pits of the Fastest Street
Car Shootout in Memphis and smelling fresh rubber as competitors filed
their Super Street tires down until they put down a 10 and half-inch
footprint. We were certainly strict back then, but this dramatically
illustrates a problem that has once again cropped up in today’s 10.5
classes.

Super Street started off as a companion class to the NMCA’s Pro Street
category, loosely based on the Outlaw Super Stocks that ran out of the
Chicago area back then. The distinguishing factor was the small tires
they utilized, which were limited to a 10.5-inch width. The class
quickly took on a legendary status as these 3000 lb. cars dropped from
9 to 8, then to 7-second elapsed times. But controversy arose over the
actual footprint of the slicks. How close should you adhere to the
tire’s original 10.5 inches? At what point in a tire’s lifespan do you
measure its width--fresh out of the mold, off the car, on the car,
before a race or after? How do you measure it? What do you measure it
with?

DON YOUNG

1-29-07-young.jpg
Acknowledged as one of the sport's best bracket racers
during the 1970s and early 1980s, Don Young rose to the pinnacle of IHRA
sportsman racing before being killed in a 1985 racing accident at the age of
38.

Young captured consecutive Winston championship titles in
1984 and 1985 and remains the only drag racing champion to be honored
posthumously. A husband and father, Young's success on the drag strip had also
transferred to an expanding auto repair and machine shop business in Carrollton, Ga., just
west of Atlanta. 

SIDEBAR - MY YOUNG MEMORIES

I
learned early in life that drag racing was a dangerous sport. I think I always
knew it from the time I started going to the ‘strip at age 13, but never did it
hit as close to home as it did on a cool Sunday afternoon in 1985. Fresh out of
high school, I swindled (well, bargained) a restricted access pass from the son
of an IHRA tech official and ventured out on the starting line at the famed
Thunder Valley Dragway during the Fallnationals.

I had
always wanted to get the chance to be out on the starting line to take
pictures. I remember the sights and sounds of that day as if it were just a
week ago. I also remember the threat of rain all day.

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