Hood: First NHRA Race A Real Ear-Opener

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 15 2011

Sensory overload is a signature of NHRA fuel classes. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Commerce, Ga. – After witnessing several hundred NASCAR races (I’ve actually lost count) in person over the past three decades, I experienced a motorsports first on Saturday when I attended my first NHRA event.

Though it was the final day of qualifying for the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway to set the field for Sunday’s action at the historic dragstrip located about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta, there was no shortage of action. A large crowd was rewarded for sitting through multiple rain delays by witnessing history when 15-time Funny Car champion John Force earned the No. 1 qualifying position for Sunday’s finals.

It was the 138th time in the 62-year-old Force’s career he will head into the final round as the No. 1 qualifier. The feat ties him with Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson of nearby Sugar Hill, Ga.

As for my day at the track located just off Interstate 85, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association.

I live just 30 miles south of Commerce, which makes it even harder for me to believe that, until Saturday, I’d never even laid eyes on this dragstrip. I had passed by the entrance literally hundreds of times throughout the years but, for some inexplicable reason, had failed to turn onto the road that leads to the facility.

Commerce is best known around these parts as the outlet capital of northeast Georgia.

Ear protection is a must when getting close to the action at an NHRA event.

But during mid-May each year, the population here temporarily swells as thousands of drag racing enthusiasts make their way to this relatively small town.

As I entered the grounds on Saturday, it had the feel of a NASCAR event. I saw motorhomes, tents, tailgaters, folks on four-wheelers and fans wearing racing hats and shirts. Though I did see a Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. shirt, most folks were sporting clothing carrying the names John Force, Ashley Force Hood, Ron Capps and Brandon Bernstein.

After walking through the gates, I immediately noticed that the souvenir haulers were parked adjacent to the garage. This is unlike NASCAR events where these rigs are often found in the parking lot.

I was most impressed with the fact that any fan holding a ticket (reserved or general admission) was permitted to stroll through the garage and see the cars, drivers and teams upclose.

There were no fancy garage stalls. The teams parked their cars parallel with their haulers. Large awnings covered the cars and teams’ workplace.

Fans were permitted to get within just a few feet of the teams as they thrashed on the machines.

I spent the majority of the day sitting in the grandstands and soaking up the

Tony Pedregon in his Funny Car.


There was a jumbotron, which showed lives shots of the action and replays. There was a very informative gentleman working the public address system, which was very easy to hear when the cars weren’t screaming down the track.

The show moved rather steadily, but I noticed about a 10-minute or so break as one classification concluded and another began rolling to the starting line.

I couldn’t hold back a chuckle during one of the mini-intermissions when the track announcer started rattling off NASCAR trivia. I didn’t happen to hear the question, but the answer was Kurt Busch.

Now tell me NASCAR fans, when’s the last time you attended a NASCAR event and heard a track official began quizzing the crowd with NHRA trivia. I’m going to take a guess and say never.

I was also somewhat surprised by the makeup of Saturday’s crowd. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but I noticed a large contingent of enthusiastic black fans in attendance. Perhaps NASCAR’s should take a note or two from the NHRA playbook on how to appeal to minorities.

As for the action, I was simply astounded during each Top Fuel and Funny Car run.

RacinToday.com colleague Rick Minter had warned me in advance to bring along ear plugs or headphones to protect my hearing. It turns out that his advice was accurate as the decibel level bounced off the chart each time the tree turned green.

As the cars zipped down the track, I was simply amazed to feel the stands literally vibrate and feel a powerful force ricochet off my chest.

It nearly took my breath away and was unlike anything in motorsports I’ve ever seen.

Despite being forced to dodge the rain drops, it was an enjoyable and memorable experience.

I didn’t find out if I should expect to bump into Ashley Force Hood at my next family reunion. But I did walk away knowing my next trip to Commerce likely won’t be to go shopping at the outlet malls.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 15 2011


  • Johnny Ferrell says:

    Love the NHRA, I’ve tried to follow John Force for many years and now his daughters since retiring from the Air Force.

  • Jon says:

    Great article. I’ve never been to a NASCAR race, but of about 10 NHRA races I have attended, I have as yet to run into one of the drivers who wasn’t friendly and down to earth. It just seems most of them are really good guys, with maybe the possible exception of Warren Johnson, and it wasn’t that he was rude, just kinda secretive about his car.

    I still remember my first race. I walked into Firebird raceway in Phoenix and sat down. About 10 minutes later Bernstein fired up the Budweiser King and went down the track and it literally scared the shit out of me and also got me hooked for life. I have taken 3 newbies with me to the races since then, 2 of them real tough guys, and the same thing happened to them. First fueler down the track scared the shit out of them and they were hooked.

    Real men drive funny cars, not stock cars!


  • Dick says:

    Good for you, Jeff. You’ve broadened your motorsports horizons.

    Beside what you’ve mentioned, I also appreciate that in NHRA there is NO automatic entry into the “show” by virtue of points. You run your way in! Or you go home. No matter how big you are.

    Now, Jeff…..if you would like to further broaden your motorsports experience, you might take a little road trip up to Chapel Hill, TN in July for the Lions Super Pull of the South truck and tractor pull. If you like the raw horsepower displayed in NHRA, you’ll love tractor pulling.

    I’ll be watching for your enthusiastic report from Chapel Hill.

  • Larry Easler says:

    Great article!

    Welcome to the addiction that is Drag Racing!

    Now, to get you to Charlotte, Bristol, or Gainesville!

  • Kelly says:

    Great article! I have been drag racing for years! I tell all the guys I work with that are always talking Nascar this and that that they don’t know what they are missing! Nascar cars have a motor, Fuel cars are ALL MOTOR!!!!! Nascar = watching paint dry!!