The U.S. Nationals

This coming Labor Day weekend, the third major motor sports event of the year in the Indianapolis area will take place at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. This weekend follows the Indianapolis 500 as well as the Brickyard 400, with both of those events being held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But, this prestigious event beginning on Friday, will take place at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, which is located in Hendricks County just west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway near Brownsburg Ind.

The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals have been held at Lucas Oil Raceway Park since 1961 when it was called Indianapolis Raceway Park or simply IRP for all you old timers. It is drag racings largest and most prestigious event of the year, and just like the two previously mentioned events, it is the race that all drag racers world wide want to win. With that being said, there is a tremendous amount of hype and notoriety that is focused on this once a year event. The self imposed pressure of the participants each year to win this event, rivals the pressure to win The Indianapolis 500. Just like the Indy 500, heroes and legends have also created at the U.S. Nationals too.

The U.S. Nationals is sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association or simply the NHRA. The NHRA was founded by Hot Rod Magazine editor Wally Parks in 1951. The reason he created it, was to get the street racing hot rodders off the street and onto the newly created drag strips. He also did it to make drag racing a legitimate racing series. Much like Bill France created NASCAR to make stock car racing a legitimate racing series as well. Sitting here decades later, it’s clear that both of those men were highly successful in what they had created.

Wally, was so successful in creating the NHRA, and was so respected in the drag racing world by his peers, the competitors, press and the fans named the race winning a trophy in his honor. It is a small statue in the likeness of Wally Parks and is called the “Wally.” It is to the drag racing world just as the Oscar is to the entertainment world.

It is the most revered trophy in all of drag racing.  

By now, you are probably asking why should I attend the U.S. Nationals? If you are a true race fan, you should have already attended at least once. If you have never been, then you owe it to yourself to see one of the greatest auto racing spectacles on the planet. It is the fastest sport on earth with the top two classes reaching over 300 MPH consistently.

Speaking of classes, there are too many classes to mention here and depending on economics, there could be up to 1000 competitors on the grounds at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. There is a class for almost any drag racing car that can be built all the way from street driven stock cars to the Top Fuel Dragster. Regardless of which class a person competes in, you can be sure he will do his or her best to win that class. After all it is the U.S. Nationals.  

The competitors are bar none the most fan friendly in all of motor sports as they put the professional stick and ball sports to shame by their desire to interact with the fans. Every admission ticket is a pit pass. That means every fan has access to the pit areas. That means every fan can walk through the pits and observe the competitors working on their equipment. In fact, most of the drivers will talk to the fans and are not hidden in some motor home or car hauler like they are in other forms of motorsports. As in all professional sports, if the competitors are working under stress they may not be as fan friendly. If that’s the case, respect their position and you may be rewarded later with a very patient and friendly driver that will interact with all fans.

The biggest reason though to attend the U.S. Nationals is the spectacular racing that takes place. The racing takes place on a quarter mile with the top two classes racing 1000 feet for safety reasons. The top four classes are Pro Stock Motor Cycle, Pro Sock Car, Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster. I will only briefly describe the top four classes.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle is purpose built machine built for drag racing only. It is very low to the ground and the driver leans over the gas tank for cleaner aerodynamics. They are approaching 200 MPH in the quarter mile.

The Pro Stock Car as the name implies resembles a street driven car. They also are purpose built race cars and they race to just over 200 MPH in the quarter mile. They deploy parachutes at the end of a run to help slow them down.

The top two classes are fueled by Nitro Methane also known as liquid dynamite. For you chemistry majors the chemical symbol is CH3 NO2. It has a distinctive odor and is a sweet perfume to drag racing fan just like the smell of methanol is to the open wheeled fan and racing gas to the NASCAR fan. Get too close to fumes and you are guaranteed to cry like a baby. As mentioned before, the fans can get up close to these awesome machines and I guarantee it will be an experience you won’t forget.

The Funny Car is celebrating 50 years of existence. It started out as an altered wheel based stock car that evolved into a car that someone once said that car sure looks funny. That is a very brief description of how the Funny Car has evolved the last 50 years. It’s basically a front engine dragster with a funny looking stock car body covering it.

The Top Fuel dragster is an elongated needle nosed rear engine dragster. It too has evolved from a crude front engine dragster to the sleek missile that is racing today. Its’ history goes back to the very beginnings of drag racing.

They both use a supercharged 500 cubic inch Hemi head engine that was first developed and raced by the Chrysler Corp back in 1960’s This engine has also evolved into a 11,000 horsepower monster, yes count the zero’s, they produce 11,000 horsepower.  That is ground shaking horsepower and the ground shakes when the race.

They are the loudest and most spectacular racing machines on the planet. The Indianapolis 500 is still the greatest spectacle in racing with its sustained racing speeds of over 200 MPH, but the Nitro cars carry the word spectacular to a new level.

I am planning a follow up article titled Race Day at the U.S. Nationals where I plan to describe how the biggest drag race of the year is conducted.

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