My first drag race.
Andy and I decided to go to Avon Park to watch Steve, (Andy’s brother), race “The Black Pig”. When we got there it was not only bitterly cold, but wet too. Obviously, they don't race in the rain because of the lack of traction -big engines & racing slicks on wet, greasy tarmac isn't a good combination. The organisers were trying everything they could think of to dry out the track, including a tractor towing rubber strips to try & squeegee the surface dry & volunteers sat in the back of a pick-up, armed with gas burners. They appealed over the tannoy system for anyone with road-going tyres to go and drive up and down the strips to take off some of the surface water and help warm the tarmac for the racers. So we jumped into my BMW 330 Clubsport and off we went to help them out. This way I could say I’d been on the strip, (ok only 15mph but who cares). We did our bit and followed the convoy of other cars cruising slowly up & down the strip. When we’d had enough we parked up with the Wild Bunch crew, (Steve's racing club), and went for a wander to see the other cars and bikes that were there and to take photos for the website.
A bit later they announced that the runs were still too wet for slicks -they weren't allowed to run as it was too dangerous, but road going tyres were still allowed to go. That put paid to Steve's racing plans for the day but Andy said “why don’t you take your car on the strip. It may be your only chance”. I thought about it and asked Steve various questions then thought some more. We went and watched a few going up the strips to see how it was done & I thought "what the hell, I might as well!" So off we went to the Marshal's office to find out what we had to do. Before you pay your money, your car has to be scrutaneered. They check for any engine leaks, excess mud, loose parts, heavy objects or petrol canisters in the boot and they check your seatbelt. If your car passes they mark your race number on the back window and give you a slip of paper which you take to the office. There you sign a disclaimer form and pay your money and they give you a tiny coloured sticker to put in the windscreen of your car and off you go and run up the strip as many times as you like, (at this event anyway. Can’t comment on other events or venues).
The next stage was to pluck up the courage to actually do it, so I had a few words with Steve to find out what to do, where and when. I watched a few others first to put Steve’s advice into visual understanding, for example, how the lights worked and how people lined up with the light system etc. Then I joined the long queue to have my go. I had a long wait as someone very kindly dropped anti-freeze on the tarmac, so the track crew had to clear it up before anyone else could race. Then someone dropped mud on the strip & they had to clean it up all over again. Then engine oil. So it was over an hour before I got my first run.
Steve’s first bit of advice was to avoid the water that the race cars use to spin their tyres in to warm up the rubber as it was pointless with normal road tyres. So off I went. When I was called over to the strip I drove round the patch as instructed. As I got close to the start line I had to line my car up with the laser timing beam. One of the marshals guided me in. You can gauge this by looking on top of the vertical lights and there are 2 rows of horizontal lights. Once these 2 rows are lit on both sides of the track, “bamm”, next thing you know you're looking at a green light and flooring the car as hard as you possibly can. When you go up the strip for the first time It’s a very strange feeling, it’s like you are accelerating on ice. You daren’t move the wheel for fear of sliding and you daren’t let off the throttle for slowing down. All you see is tarmac in front of you and not much else. It's very rare to get the chance to really hammer your car as hard as you possibly can & the finish line shot into view scarily fast. The next problem is stopping. If you brake too hard you risk losing control; not hard enough & you shoot past the exit slip. There are 2 exit slips, one for the slower cars like myself and one further up for the really scary stuff. Anyway my first run I beat the other guy, (so his friends promptly told me on my return back to the startline), and Steve made a comment about how much of a head start I gave him, (rubbish reaction time).
Andy and I said our goodbyes to Lesley and Steve as they had had enough & were off home, then I went back for another go. My sole aim was just to get my reaction time down. Although I lost my next 2 races I did achieve my goal and with every run I got quicker in everything. After my third run I thought I’d best not push for any more as we needed the car to get home. Most people had left at this point so we gathered up the timing slips from the Marshal's office and made our way home.
What started as a cold, horrid day ended up a very enjoyable one. It's a shame none of the drag cars got to have a go, but it was better safe than sorry. I recommend everyone to have a go at least once as it’s nothing at all like driving on the road or racing off traffic lights. Another new experience ticked off the list.
I praise those that race the faster cars as I just don’t have the guts -it was scary enough in my 3 litre but well worth the money.
Thanks to Steve for the advice and Andy for pushing me to have a go and not forgetting Lesley standing in the cold to watch my first run.