Saturday, July 19, 1,975
"THE MICHIGAN DAILY
The dragway Strp to the big time
By PAUL HASKINS
Their noses to the asphalt, their gaudy back ends
tilted skyward, with tailpipes vibrating like a rattler
poised to attack, the dragsters hug the starting line
and wait for the green light. The super-charged en-
gines spit out their impatience in a rapid series of
defeaning accelerations and short-lived power-downs.
Feet, depressed on the clutch pedals, are all that
prevent the ear-splitting standstill from erupting into
an unchecked and ungodly explosion of energy that
will carry them past the far end of the 1300 foot track
in less than 13 seconds.
The scene is Detroit Dragway, a living monument to
motor city culture, less refined, perhaps, than the
Fischer Theater or the Institute of Art, yet indelibly
etched on the subconscience of thousands of Detroiters
who have soaked up daily a steady diet of the famed
"Sibley at Dix" dragway radio bypes since birth. Re-
plete with the roar of a hundred hungry engines,
echo-chamber sound effects, and an announcer paid
on a words per minute basis, the Detroit Dragway
commercials, classics of their period, are so peaked
with adrenalin that ohe wonders if the raceway itself
could match the excitement of the radio spots.
AS A MATTER of fact it doesn't-not quite anyway.
The action is there and all out to be sure, but it's
intermittent and squeezed between a series of mind
deadening intermissions. The dragway is surrounded
by a hodgepodge of structures in a state of repair
roughly equivalent to that of the Bikini Island village
Though a crashing let down for the one shot visitor,
such sore spots and impositions are trifling matters for
the dragster jockeys milling about the pits and the
handful of die-hard spectators who, looking like so
many grazingcattle, sit partiallysubmerged in the
prairie grass concealing the splinter-plank benches
HE DRIVERS come to race, and racing is all they
are concerned with once they've paid the six dollar
entree fee at the .gate. The drigway may appear ram-
shackle to outsiders, but for what it can do for the
drivers pride in their -machine, the old place may as
well be Indi or the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The thrill of head to head competition against a
worthy opponent has been part of the American auto-
motive tradition since the days of Henry the I.
Cross-country and ovaltrack racing, which place a
premium on handling skill as well as raw speed, can
trace their colorful tradition back to the birth of the
automobile. It wasn't until the 1950s that sanctioned
HOVERING.OVER HIS engine, a dragster at the Detroit Dragway tunes, oils, and generally prepares his car
for the quarter mile race he is about tb participate in. Hard core dragsters pour their money and heart
into their machines, hoping they will carry their drivers to the big time racing.
There each vehicle will be inspected from the inside
out, placed in one of over 50 classes which indicate
engine size, weight ratio and transmission type (manual
or automatic). The engine size, in cubic inches, is
smeared on the windshield with a white shoe polish
applicator, and the car's glass is marked, on the side
window. Besides assigning each car to a class, the
tech line inspectors also check to make sure that every
zar meets the minimum safety standards set by the
United Hot Rod Association (UHRSA), a second-string
oversight group under whose auspices the Detroit
Dragway and the Motor City track operate.
ONCE A CAR gets past the inspectors (and almost
anything with four wheels and a seat belt does), it
bolts off to join the double line of dragsters revving it
20-year-old Mike Meyers, a drag-racing buff who makes
it down most weekends with five or six of his racing
friends from Redford Township. "This is something
that just a regular guy can come down and do."
In the major circuits, usually supervised ,by the
more established National Hot Rod Association, spon-
sors have bigger names and more money to throw
around-as do the racers. The dragsters are faster
and flashier, and the cars are bigger and 'more com-
fortable. But then again, in the -big time you can't
just drive your old pickup or stripped Pinto out and
race it if you had a mind to, and that is what the
Detroit Dragway is all about.
EACH WEEK, a couple of unadorned street cars will
find their way into the dragster pack-the drivers
out for a one-time-only cheap thrill and the chance to
tell their friends that they raced at the track. But at
the heart of the track's survival rests a steady core
of drivers who take their racing seriously and come
out every week. A few of the racers, the ones with the
most nerve, the best cars and the temerity to hold
fast to an elusive dream, plan to make the sport their
life and drag race for a living. Nearly all of them put
healthy chunks of their pay checks and free time into
the maintenance and improvement of their car. Hours
each day during the week are syent making sure that
the car will be at its best for the weekend.
See DRAG, Page 9
w ewe w w r, w r w i
drag-racing got off the ground, providing a racing
forum with speed and immediacy as its only two
The new sport caught fire and proliferated over the
next fifteen years. Strips sprung up across the country,
forming 'a stronghold in the sunny southwest but extend-
ing into such unlikely locales as Long Island and the
Northern Plains states.
By the e'arly seventies, drag racing's popularity be-
gan to subside. Some tracks shut down, others slashed
their racing calendars, and enthusiasts feared that the
sport was fated to burn out before it ever got started.
' ODAY'S RACING buffs, like Tom Gilmore, manager
of the Detroit Dragway and its sister track, Motor
City Dragway, say dragster mania is on the rise again.
You wouldn't know it by the condition of Tom's track,
complex. But then, the run-down refreshment stand
and weed-spotted gravel pit are hardly a reflection of
fire in the eyes of those men who dream of glory,
however fleeting, for themselves and their cars.
The contestants converge on the Taylor dragway
with all manners of four wheelers every Saturday and
Sunday during the summer, numbering, as the lot
attendant sees it, "from 12 to 200 depending on the
The cars begin arriving hours before the first tirs
trials, and head for the Tech Line set a couple hun-
dred feet from the gate and to one side of the track.
up behind the starting line before the time trials begin.
In the time trials, just as in the eliminations that
will follow, the starting light sequencer-a vertical bat-
tery of lights flashed in series, from top 'to bottom,
with green light flashing last and indicating the start-
sends pair after pair of cars hurtling down the track
in thiry second intervals. But unlike the eliminations,
the time trials produce no losers. They're simply tiral
heats, run to handicap each car before the finals and
to give the drivers a chance to work out any kinks
which might be plaguing their charges before the
Except on special occasions, the cars on display at
the dragway have to split their time between week-
end racing and the providing transportation rest of the
week. Though an elite few are loaded with high per-
formance luxuries designed to achieve the most speed
in the least time, even most cars are called on to meet
the workhorse tasks of stop-and-go driving during
their owners off-track hours.
ONLY ONCE, maybe twice a year, does a dragway
crowd get a chance to feast their eyes on the
heavily financed, high performance pro-stocks, late
model stock car dragsters, funny cars (custom built
dragsters with plastic bodies), and powerhouse fuel
dragsters or rails (the long, sleek skeletal steel frame
numbers with bicycle tires in front and an engine that
could move Mt. Everest mounted behind the driver). -
"Most of these cars are street and strip," explains
Daiis Pboto by STEVE KAGAN
DRAG RACING IS EXCITING, bu tonly intermit-
tently. Most of the time, the drivers are forced to
wait around for their turn at the starting line.
And on sunny Sundays, it's a lot nicer outside
than inside their cars.