Looking back, I’d say this was one of the best adventures on asphalt that I’ve had in a long time: three buddies and me, smack-dab in the middle of Hot Rod Magazine’s 2021 Drag Week. Our schedule would take us to Indy’s Lucas Oil Raceway on September 15 followed by a Thursday stop at Byron Dragway, Byron Illinois. We’d finish the week with a two-day stint at Rock Falls Raceway near Eau Claire, Wisconsin for the Meltdown Drags Association’s annual “Fall Out” vintage drag racing weekend. This trip promised an interesting transition. We’d be living both ends of the spectrum, shifting from a racing world filled with turbos, computer tuning and high tech performance direct to the bare-bones drag racing basics of the 1960s. Set for blastoff Tuesday morning at “oh-dark-thirty”, we would be in Indianapolis by nightfall. By week’s end I was broke, worn out and glad to be home. If I’m honest with myself though, somewhere within the sun-fried frontal lobe lies the thought that I would have gladly turned right around and repeated. Who knows when the chance would again present itself to do two stellar events like that back-to-back, in just one week? Schedules (and planets!) would definitely have to align.
If you’ve never followed Drag Week and don’t know much about it, take time to do a little research. It’s a brutal five days of grassroots drag racing. When Friday rolls around every racer that makes it the distance has accomplished something that no one can ever dispute. Our first stop Tuesday night found us wandering around the motel parking lot as folks bench raced and attended to their rides, prepping for the next day’s battle at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The dedication and focus these racers display is way beyond anything I could imagine. Yet there’s very little if any in-your-face attitude or cut-throat competition. In one instance a racer at Indy blew a differential thirdmember and within a short time a fellow competitor had offered up a spare. Similar stories are abundant. Many of the cars displayed stickers from multiple years. They just keep coming back. Why? Because there’s no other event quite like Drag Week.
Although I had read about it plenty, this was the first time I had the chance to experience Drag Week first hand. As I recorded these images I basically just tried to stay out of everyone’s way and absorb what I was seeing. There was so much going on that it was, honestly, sort of surreal.
There was of course plenty of action on the track. Registration is capped at 400 cars; although around 60 of those failed to even start the week and still others succumbed to major breakdowns that prevented them from finishing. I never saw any “posers”. They were all there to race. It’s a time trial/top speed format, with racers going against the clock rather than running side by side eliminations. And unless there’s breakage or a time out for track grooming the runs are pretty much nonstop.
Wheels up? Got that. Smoky burnouts? Yep. And sprinkled between those were the 8-second and 7-second quarter-mile elapsed times. One after another, it seemed. Unreal!
And the kicker, if you hadn’t heard, is that each of the cars had to drive a prescribed route on public roads, between each of the dragstrips on the schedule. The only trailers allowed were the ones the racers themselves pulled with their cars, carrying tools and spare parts and whatever else they figured they’d need along the way.
Unless, of course, your vehicle had enough room to haul your gear without the need for a trailer!
Given the opportunity, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Drag Week moves around to different parts of the U.S. each year, to a series of drag strips that are in relatively close proximity. We don’t know where the next round will be held, that announcement will be made sometime prior to the racer signup next spring. But if and when it comes back to the midwest, I’m hoping to be there.
It was an experience I won’t soon forget.
To see the full photo gallery, click here. And be sure to stop by later for Part 2: The “Fall Out”. I’ll be putting together a recap from the second leg of our trip, when the Meltdown Drags Association and friends roll in to Rock Falls Raceway. Until then, dig the drive!