Thursday, April 9, 2009

The 8 Second Ride of my Life

“Hey Charlie, want to drive the drag car?”

“Sure! You know I like to drive anything, anywhere, anytime.”

Plus- going in a straight line- how hard could it be? And it’s just a school car right? They are probably speed limited and not quite opened up……… Nope! Full blown open wheeled drag car experience. The last pass was 1/4mile in 7.97 crossing the line at 163mph. The 8 second ride of a life!

The invitation came through the people here at the Palm Beach International Raceway. One of the coolest things about this raceway is that they have 3 completely separate racetracks- a 2 mile road course, a great go-kart track and a beautiful ¼ mile concrete drag strip. I grew up on karting and have been in road course cars since I was 16. But I have never experienced drag racing except on TV. I have always been impressed by the size of the spectacle, and the fact that Top Fuel dragsters will do over 300 mph and need a parachute to stop. However, I never truly appreciated the acceleration, the g-forces and the whole drag racing experience. Until last night.

Here at PBIR, they have a drag racing school run by US Pro Forward Champion Nelson Hoyos. And it is run not in a dinky little school car, but his actual race car, slightly de-tuned so you can build up and get used to the kick the car gives you off the line. And ‘kick’ is a very big understatement. When the light goes green, it is like have 10 NFL lineman charge into your back at full speed and push you so hard it is difficult to catch your breath. But Nelson doesn’t start you at the OMG launch. To get me comfortable in the car and the differences with my Firestone Indy Lights car, he showed me all the controls, fired it up, and had me drive around the paddock a bit. Then he had me practice lining up on a line, reversing, and then gave me a taste of the launch button (I keep using 'launch' because it is not like starting a car, more like launching a rocket!). The first time I did it in the parking lot, I only had about 2000RPM when I let go of the brake button. WHOA! I couldn’t even imagine what 8000RPM was going to feel like. I was going to have to remember to keep my head back.

So then it was back to the trailer, get my helmet, HANS, and gloves on before trundling up into the staging lanes. There were probably about 100 street and drag cars for Wild Wednesdays drag night. Nelson and I continued to talk about how it was going to work, that on the first pass he wanted me to hold the car about 3500RPM, and lift off after about 300 feet just to get a feeling for the shot off the line. So pull up the water box, do a burnout to get some temperature in the very wide rear Goodyear tires, and then pull up to the line. Hit the pre-stage timing beam, then the staged beam, bring the revs up, the lights on the ‘tree’ (where the yellow and green lights are) go on, hits the bottom green light, finger off the brake button then full throttle…..AND HOLD ON!!!! Wow! That first impression still gives me an adrenaline rush.

Nelson asks back at the trailer, “What did you think of that?”

“I want more!!!! Can we go full power yet?”

“Haha, awesome! Let’s turn it up some and have you run the 1/8mile. Some people come off the line and there’s a wiggle- others come off straight and fly down the track. You kept it nice and straight so we are ready to bring the speed up and the time down.”

He tweaks the electronics in the cockpit and then it’s back to waiting in the staging lanes. Nelson explains to me that the biggest issue with drag racing is that it is ‘hurry up…and wait!’ We are talking about the differences in sight pictures from ‘his’ cockpit and ‘mine.’ The drag car doesn’t have mirrors! And the front tires are sooooo far in front of me. It is good because it helps you look a long ways down the track. He explains to me that this time he wants me to go full throttle and let the electronics keep the engine at the right RPM, when the light goes green, let off the button, make very small corrections to keep it straight, keep it lit until the 1/8 mile……oh yeah and HOLD ON TIGHT! WOW! It really took off! My mind was starting to catch up with my body when I went past the 1/8mile marker. I knew he wanted me to let off and coast through the ¼ mile, but I went a little ways past as I was having too much fun. The sensation after you let off the gas is incredible. You go from having this raging dragon roaring behind your head to floating down this super smooth concrete track with only the wind and your thoughts keeping you company. I hear at the end of the night that even though I let off the gas at the 1/8 mile, I still ran the ¼ mile in under 10 seconds. A very impressive time!

After a few words on the loudspeaker system with the announcer about my racing, the difference to the drag strip and how much fun I was having, it was back into my helmet, into the car and prepping for run three. A full ¼ mile with the taps fully open and the car less de-tuned. Nelson leans into the cockpit and says “This time, I am going to give you full revs for a full pass, full throttle, light goes green, off the button, keep it straight, focus on the timing billboard to shut it down…..Oh yeah and…”

“I know, I know, HOLD ON!”

“Hahaha, no. Enjoy!”

And enjoy I did. A bit longer burn-out out of the water box for a little more tire temperature. Full revs, full throttle, yellow lights, green light, thumb of the brake button. Queue NFL lineman. I have driven race cars all over the world. I have down 0-60mph in less than 3 seconds. I have raced through city streets, by harbors with huge yachts, dealt with snow at the edge of the racetrack, overflowing drain grates and so many weather conditions. Nothing felt like the acceleration for those 7.97 seconds. I have never had a car push me so hard for sooooo long. I passed the finish line and as the car slowed (and I realized how much adrenaline was in my system) I truly understood drag racing. The rush is just like running the perfect line through a set of corners. Like winning. Just in less than 8 seconds.

I have to say the biggest thank you to Nelson Hoyos. His drag racing school, Driven 2 Win, is an awesome experience for anyone who wants a taste of real drag racing. Nelson is a perfect instructor: years of experience, lots of victories, enthusiastic and all around great guy! He builds up to speed perfectly and makes sure you are comfortable with everything each step of the way.

Here’s the video of my last pass:


  1. Oh, man. I know the feeling. Those short, eight second, rides, where you feel like the NFL linemen are charging from behind, just leave you breathless. Quite the rush.

    I've watched some guys drag before. I've seen that wiggle! I'm glad that you still managed to go straight, though. Probably helped that your teacher was very experienced and understood that you being comfortable helped a lot. :)

  2. That is awesome! Watching the video brought back a ton on good memories of the drag strip at night under those lights. So Cool! And you had a pretty good reaction time on top of that!

  3. Charlie,

    You are having way too much fun boy! I really enjoy your description of your exploits. Whether it is your European track experiences or the deal this last weekend in Florida or this last wonderful test of your talents on the short track, good show boy. Great student who is willing to listen to the teacher and use his skills. Long Beach is waiting. Don't know if we can make it but I want to wish you well and all of us at Calavo are pulling for you, give em hell and keep slipping past the spinouts, its working for you!!!! Link

  4. Charlie

    Now you know why I love drag racing , you have been bitten by the bug you better watch out or we will be seeing you on TV with the NHRA. When I get my diesel drag truck redone you can take it for a run down the 1/4 mile and see what it is like to launch a 5000 lb truck.

    Gene Feldhans

  5. Charlie, Charlie Charlie,

    You always get to drive the fun cars.

    But you still haven't driven a sprint car yet and your Mouthy Mechanic has.