Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hot Rod Fever

The preliminaries, called "qualifying," of the NHRA Finals at Pomona, are going on as I write this. I'd rather be there than here, but where's the time, where's the money? Qualifying goes on for three days, and is both exciting and fun. The fourth day, Sunday, is Final Eliminations, in which the race winners in each of four classes are determined. It's all very noisy and very exciting. If you've never heard (and felt) the roar of a 8000+ horsepower engine covering a quarter-mile from a standing start in four-and-one-half seconds, you've missed an extreme assault 'pon your senses.

A story in the LA Times Sports section the other day reminded me of the long history drag racing has in Southern California. It started here, as did many things, in the wake of World War II, with surviving veterans looking for outlets for the excitement to which they'd become accustomed while slogging through the mud and sands of faraway places.

There were the bikers, and there were the hot rodders.

Hot rodders would work on their cars, making them lighter by taking off superfluous parts and faster by installing bigger engines, modifying them and by using different tire/wheel/brake/suspension combinations. Naturally, they'd race against each other to measure the success of their efforts.

At first, the races were on rarely used roads ans streets. After a number of collisions and pileups, when the local police started cracking down, enterprising individuals started setting up dedicated race tracks around the Los Angeles area, for use by area hot rodders for a reasonable fee. For years, these tracks thrived. Between 1950 and the early 1980's, there were as many as eleven drag strips in Southern California.

Now, they're all gone but one, and that's at Pomona. It's not available for today's young hot rodders to use on any weekend.

Some say they all closed because of the rise in land values in Southern California. Others cite high insurance costs, in an era when a signed release of liability by an adult means nothing in a court of law.

Meanwhile, thrill seeking young men (and now, young women) still want to race. With no drag strips available this side of Bakersfield, where do they race? The streets. At night. In the normally quiet suburbs.

Since Southern California has a far denser population than in the late 1940's, quiet roads and streets are increasingly harder to find. There are more racing collisions, some involving the public, and some involving death.

But for an unknown and unknowable government regulations, edicts and unneeded laws, insurance organizations would be willing to write policies for reasonable prices, and in the absence of draconian taxes, land would be more available at lower prices.

I don't know if an absence of government intervention would mean more drag strips or not. A favorite theory of mine is that cars would soon become obsolete in favor of personal aircraft. That process was begun (by some of those same post WWII thrill seekers) and quickly squelched by the evil Civil Aeronautics Board in the 1950's. It will still happen, once government is gotten out of the way. And then, it won't be any time at all before aero hot rodders will be racing 'em.

Feeling the need for speed.

Warm regards,

Col. Hogan
Stalag California


MK said...

I've always wondered about those small tires on the front of dragsters. I'm sure there's a reason for it, but it's just funny to see those huge tires at the back and those small bicycle tires at the front.

Col. Hogan said...

The reasons for the small tires in front are two (that I know about): less weight on the front end do aid weight transfer to the drive wheels under acceleration, and less air drag. They're still enough for the small amount of steering they have to do (usually).

steveintx said...

Remembering back, damm I'm getting good at that, Amarillo was a stop on the NHRA circuit. The few times I was in town at the same times the racers were here I went to see them. Eight bucks at the gate beer .75 a cup....outrageous prices, truely outrageous.

I was absolutely enthralled with Shirley Muldowney, I had a long conversation with her about women in sports. A deep subject for someone my age at the time. I'm thinkin' it was her subject more than mine. Now you hear names like Melanie, Ashley, Erica, and Hillary. (Hillary Will, not Hillary Putin) She probably had more to do with my support of Title Nine than anything else. She penned a note to me on a program. I didn't treasure it then as I would now and lost it in my many moves. Our track is still here and they still race if you ever want to come by. It's IHRA now though the Bigs don't stop here any more.

The bastards may have killed freedom but they can't take the memories, eh big brother?

Col. Hogan said...

They'll take the memories if they can, Steve. That's why the government's children's prisons have all but destroyed the subject of History. They don't want anyone being able to remember liberty.

TWC said...

Ain't nothing like a big fat American vee eight hurtling down the quarter mile at light speed.

Col. Hogan said...

....Or kroozin' along the boulevard with a blower sticking out of a hole in the hood and that familiar rump, rump, rump sound.

10men said...

I had a commodore VH that did 12sec on the 1/4 mile.

Biggest buzz I've ever had starting at the xmas lights.

Col. Hogan said...

12 seconds is pretty good for a Hudson. They were pretty big cars.