What Era of Motorsport Was the Best?

This idea is simple:  What era of motorsport was/is the best?  What drivers were/are the best?  What motorsport was/is the best?  What cars were the best?  What track was the best?

For me, I can’t choose just one.  1960s Top Fuel drag racing was the best of the 1960s.  There were plenty of big names competing against smaller names, many of whom have been lost to the sands of time.  Some of those names we are familiar with – Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen (anybody who’s ever had a large collection of Hot Wheels has/had models of their cars).  Their cars were spectacularly fast (Garlits was the first to break 200 mph in his Top Fuel dragster), and they always put on one hell of a show.  I’m going to say that Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, CA was the best.  While I never visited it (it closed in 1972), it is rumored to have been one of the best drag strips ever.  If you’re into Facebook, look up “THE GLORY DAYS OF DRAG RACING.”  It’s a closed group, but they will let you in.  It’s got a lot of great vintage photos.  Read their rules before posting something.

Another great one for me was 1980s Formula 1.  Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mario Andretti, and the late Clay Regazzoni.  It was a fierce era of turbocharged cars with well over 1,000 horsepower duking it out on the fastest tracks on the planet.  BMW had cars with 1,400 horsepower and manual transmissions (yes, you had to take your hand off of the steering wheel in a tight corner in a powerful car to shift).  Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost simply dominated the sport until the tragic death of Senna in 1994.

Finally, I’m going to say that 1980s-current off-road racing is great.  I mean, who doesn’t like watching Ivan “Ironman” Stewart bombing around Baja in his Toyota trophy truck?  Or for those American car fans, how about Robby Gordon and his HUMMERs from a long time ago?  To me, it’s the most entertaining form of motorsport, and I’ve been hoping to travel to Baja to watch the Baja 1000 for a while.

Here are some of my favorite pictures to prove it.

What Happens When You Put 50 Party Horns Into an Exhaust Pipe?

Well, it’s pretty shrill…and funny.  It sounds like, well, a bunch of party horns going off at once.  If you watch this without busting a gut, there’s something wrong with you.  It’s going to be the funniest 15 seconds of your life…guaranteed (or you get something back).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iELnlCZPR5Y

I’m very tempted to do this to my car, as it has dual exhaust pipes.  Yup, that means I’ll have 100 party horns.  Maybe somebody with a Top Fuel dragster will do this, but they’ll need fireproof party horns!

The World’s Fastest Electric Car!

Don Garlits is a drag racing legend.  It’s why he’s known as “Big Daddy.”  Garlits has set records, not only for the amount of wins, but also for eclipsed times, trap speeds, etc.  He’s been active in the drag racing world for the better part of 60 years.  Many credit him for actively starting to make Top Fuel drag racing safer.  He’s learned the hard way on how unsafe old nitromethane dragsters are.  His favorite engine is the 426 Hemi that propelled him to many a victory.  Now, at age 81, he’s trying to set yet another record.

The eerie silence of electric vehicles is a bit creepy to some.  Nowhere is it more apparent than a 1/4 mile dragstrip.  Top Fuel dragsters make 8,000 horsepower, shake your body to the core, and easily hit 150 decibels.

Big Daddy’s Swamp Rat 37 isn’t what he usually drag races.  This is evidenced by the fact that he went 323 mph six years ago.  He regularly drag races a 2009 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak (Dodge’s equivalent of the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet and Chevy COPO Camaro, except it’s got a 600 horsepower Viper V10 under the hood).  Anyhow, Swamp Rat 37 isn’t nearly as quick as other cars he’s sailed down the 1320 feet of a quarter mile in.  But, his new record proves that electric dragsters aren’t slow, either.  According to Wired, Garlits and Swamp Rat 37 just went 7.258 seconds at 184.01 mph at Brandenton Motorsports Park in Florida.  That’s a little bit short of the 200 mph Garlits is aiming for, but he still went 24.16 mph faster than the previous record.

Very few electric cars make supercars look slow, though the Tesla Model S does come close – very close.  However, Big Daddy’s dragster makes every supercar look slow.  Swamp Rat 37 has six 7.5-inch DC electric motors.  Total output from those motors is 1,500 kilowatts, equivalent to about 2,000 horsepower.  Power for those motors is provided by four lithium-ion battery packs that store 420 volts and 3,600 amps.  It’s a little bit more powerful than sticking your finger into an electrical outlet.  Since he’s living his life 1320 feet at a time, there’s no such thing as range anxiety.

Big Daddy built up to full power over the course of several runs, turning in a 10.9, an 8.75, and on his fifth run, he hit 178.42 mph.  His sixth run was the record-shattering run.  For me, the most striking noise is not the whir of the electric motors, but the tires.  The noise of the tires is always drowned out by the thundering engines used in Top Fuel dragsters.  For some,  this may devalue electric dragsters forever, but Big Daddy has shown the world that there’s potential in everything.

Enjoy the video of Garlits setting the record.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea4igN8Thtg

The Differences Between Circuit Racing, Drag Racing, and Oval Racing

My mom recently asked me what the differences were between circuit racing, drag racing, and oval racing.  For those of us who aren’t race freaks, this may prove helpful.  I know that it will prove helpful for my mom.

Drag racing is for all essential purposes, putting a big, powerful motor into a lightweight car, and adding other go-fast goodies to it, and then going to the drag strip and winning.  Ok, I wish it was that simple.  Many of the fast drag racing cars that you see going hundreds of mph down a straight 1/4 “drag strip” are purpose built.  The fast, cool cars that everybody loves are the Top Fuel dragsters.  Those are the long, huge-engined cars that blast down the drag strip in just 5 seconds.  But, there are also street-legal drag racers that are almost as quick.  Hot Rod Magazine puts on an event every year called Hot Rod Drag Week.  The fastest cars there in the Unlimited class consistently run low 7-second passes.  It’s truly mind-boggling to watch a steel-bodied 1965 Chevrolet Nova II blast down the drag strip at 6.94 seconds.  I have attached a video explaining the history of street legal drag racing, and I found it informative and fun.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TccUZOHuJuI

Circuit racing can mean two things.  One is oval racing like NASCAR or IndyCar, which is not how I view it.  The other is what they call “road-racing.”  Road racing is essentially a twisty track paved with concrete, not sticky asphalt.  It’s usually very fast, and it requires a lot of effort and concentration to wrangle a car around said track.  Formula 1 runs many road courses every season, and NASCAR runs two road courses (Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen).  But, the most well-recognized road race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as other endurance races.  Road racing is taxing on the engine, transmission, suspension, and the driver.  Darrell Waltrip (yeah, he’s the guy with the world-famous “Boogity, boogity, boogity) once said of Sonoma Raceway, “Floor the gas, upshift, mat the brakes, downshift, repeat.”  That can be said for many road courses around the world.  It’s not easy.

Oval racing is sometimes called circuit racing.  I don’t know or care why.  I just know that oval racing is NOT circuit racing.  If you find out or know why, tell me.  Anyhow, oval racing is NASCAR and IndyCar.  It’s extremely fast, and it’s taxing on the driver.  With NASCAR, pit stops are often between 8-20 seconds!  Famous oval tracks are Daytona International Speedway, Talladega International Superspeedway, Bristol Raceway, and Darlington Raceway.  Not only are all of those oval circuits fast, but they can have deadly consequences if you can’t get out of the way.  Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 2001 death at the Daytona 500 was a shock to the racing community, but it only highlighted just how deadly NASCAR is.  Speeds reaching 200+ mph are common on these oval tracks.  Bill Elliott once hit 210 mph at Talladega, which is a record that stands to this day.

Since I’m onto the different kinds of racing, I might as well do other kinds of racing.

Top-speed racing is kind of the thing nowadays.  Standing mile events are common in several states, but the big top-speed races are at the Bonneville Salt Flats and El Mirage (El Mirage is a large dry lakebed in Southern California).  The fastest run at Bonneville was 763 mph back in 1997, with Andy Green driving Thrust SSC.  Not only did that break the sound barrier for the first time in a car, but Green is planning to hit 1,000 mph with Team Bloodhound SSC next year.  Back to top-speed racing.  It’s fast, and can be deadly.  I have attached a Roadkill episode showing Freiburger and Finnegan chasing a top-speed record at Bonneville in a 1981 Chevrolet Camaro.  It’s fast, funny, and surprisingly informative.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEcbwvNaxE8

Drifting is where you take a RWD car, pull the handbrake, and break the rear end loose.  Professional drifters include Vaughan Gittin, Jr., Ken Gushi, Tanner Foust, and Ken Block, just to name a few.  Drifting originated in Japan in the mid-1970s, and it’s become a popular sport ever since.  Typical drifting machines are RWD vehicles with either a GM LS-Series engine, or a turbocharged Toyota engine.  Drifters are people who like to make lots of tire smoke and dial in a lot of opposite lock into the steering.  Drifting a RWD car should be simple:  If it’s a new car, defeat the traction and stability controls.  Then, find a big, open space (without curbs or trees!), floor it, pull up on the handbrake, and the rear end will hopefully break out.  If and when it does, steer INTO the drift!  Steering away from the drift will spin the car and make you look like an idiot.  Steer into the drift, and apply more steering and throttle as needed.  If you feel uncomfortable, tap the brakes enough to get the rear end of the car to step back into line a bit.  Also, make sure that you don’t have expensive tires on.  Drifting eats up the treads surprisingly quickly, and you probably know that Pirelli P Zero Corsas aren’t exactly cheap.  I have attached yet another video done by the Motor Trend Channel talking about turbos vs. V8s and drifting.  It gives a unique perspective into drifting, and it’s got a TON of tire smoke!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H8ItG5SK9o

Rallying can mean a couple of things.  One is where you are given directions and you drive your car on public roads to a destination.  The kind of rallying that most of us are familiar with is WRC and GRC (World Rally Cross and Global Rally Cross).  Those rally machines look stock, but don’t be fooled!  Ken Block and Tanner Foust are both professional drifters and rally drivers.  They both happen to be very good.  Ken Block’s Ford Fiesta looks like a stock Fiesta with aggressive tires, and a wild paint job, and a loud exhaust note.  It’s got a lowered, heavy-duty suspension, a 650-horsepower twin-turbocharged four-cylinder, and a six-speed manual.  It is FAST!  Ken also is a cool, nice guy who loves dogs.  Especially Alaskan Huskies.  His two Huskies’ names are Yuki and Bentley.

Autocrossing is often sanctioned by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), and it involves weaving a car in between traffic cones.  It’s fast, and it’s demanding on the suspension and tires.  Yet, people flock to it year after year.  It also is hard on the driver.  Some cars happen to be extremely good at autocrossing, and the Meyers Manx dune buggy in the late 1960s-1970s was very good.  It was light, fast, and it stuck to pavement like nothing else.  Nowadays, the Mazda Miata is the go-to choice for autocrossers.  I’ve attached the most recent Roadkill episode, where Freiburger and Finnegan attempt to beat a Kia Rio5 with all of their cars that still run.  I won’t spoil which cars win for you.  I’ll let you watch and laugh as they spin and throttle the Crusher Camaro, I’ll even let you watch and grimace as Finnegan blows up the parking assist pin in his wife’s 1969 Chevrolet El Camino, and watch as God-knows-what comes flying out of their 1968 Dodge Charger.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II3z353OZWA

I think that I’ve covered just about everything here.  If you find anything else that you can think of, let me know in the comments section.  I will do another blog post on the different types of racing.  I would love to, as it would help me immensely.