No better way to describe an NHRA event or four-wide speed at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., next to Charlotte Motor Speedway, than to have a veteran NASCAR reporter attend as media for the first time.
Toni Montgomery, seasoned NASCAR reporter for Frontstretch.com, lives in the Charlotte area, also known as headquarters for many NASCAR teams with large, comprehensive shops.
Montgomery attended a race at zMAX Dragway as a fan, but she hadn’t had the opportunity to observe the racing as media like she has for many NASCAR events.
Normally, NHRA races are two cars side by side on two lanes, but SMI owner Bruton Smith dreams big and achieves large in all his motorsports ventures. The four-wide racing on concrete lanes at zMAX Dragway is one of his banner accomplishments.
Montgomery noted the difference with a four-lane drag strip and the basic differences between NASCAR and NHRA.
As someone pointed out to me this weekend, 40,000 horsepower sitting on the starting line this past weekend was more than an entire NASCAR field combined. It's beyond thunder. It's earth-shattering stuff and I still say those cars are a little terrifying to be up-close with—the Nitro cars particularly belching smoke and flames. They are literally strapping themselves to earthbound rockets.
Pro Stock cars and NASCAR cars can get up to the same speeds, but not in that small of a space. Take Daytona—they need a lap to get up to speed. That's two-and-one-half miles. These guys are doing it in one-eighth of that space.
With the motorcycle riders, it amazes me that people go nearly 200 mph on a vehicle they are just sitting upon—not protected, not strapped down, but just sitting upon.
Montgomery interviewed veteran driver Ron Capps from Don Schumacher Racing and he shared his NASCAR and NHRA take with his high-powered Funny Car.
“I get to drive a lot of different stuff,” Capps said. “I competed in Tony Stewart's Prelude to the Dream and I'm good friends with a lot of the NASCAR drivers. I've gotten to go even drive Tony's sprint cars and the Chili Bowl in one of his midgets.”
Capps also mentioned his invitations to NASCAR drivers with vast experience racing a variety of race cars to wrestle a Funny Car down a straight track.
“You could go down the list of guys I've invited to get in a Funny Car and make a run, when they stand on the starting line, they just shake their head. And these are guys that will drive anything and love to race. That respect has always been and I find that neat.”
Montgomery wrote about the difference with NASCAR garages and NHRA pits in her experience.
The difference between being a fan and being media is a whole lot smaller in NHRA than it is in NASCAR. Here's the best way I can sum this up. I can go cover a NASCAR race, go out in the garage, interview drivers, go to prerace ceremonies and encounter no regular fans—a few with VIP access who have not yet been cleared off pit road for opening ceremonies—but for the most part on those other travels, no fans all weekend.
It's a whole different experience with NHRA because fans, media, teams, drivers—they are all in the same space. Yes, there are limits. You have to be invited behind ropes, fans can't come sit in the media center, and I can't go sit in the stands with them—but it is absolutely not as marked off.
Fans give engines to all motorsports and Montgomery paused to write her thoughts about fans and an NHRA event.
My biggest piece of advice is to go to the track—do not just turn on the TV broadcast because it's not the same—I think to really appreciate it and to "get it" you have to be there.
I would however add one piece of advice for NASCAR-type fans to help with the side-by-side win or go home deal. Don't pick just one favorite. Pick favorites in all the divisions and, really, pick several. With the win-or-go-home thing, if you only have one driver you like it may be a tough pill to swallow because there are no provisionals, no making adjustments and improving, no do-over if you spin the tires. It doesn't matter if you are John Force. It doesn't matter if you had the fastest car all weekend. If you lose in Round 1, you won't be back on track the rest of the day.
NASCAR is more than left turns and NHRA drag racing is more than driving straight, as Montgomery points out. Comparing both defines the varying and immense power of motorsports and the reasons fans show up and follow.
Montgomery also noted many distinct differences with the presence of female drivers in NHRA and NASCAR. That subject is the focus of the next article with Montgomery’s take on this sanction topic.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives. Toni Mongomery was accredited media for Racetake.com at zMAX Dragway in April 2014.