Where to Race a Beginner Dragster
By Larry Heath
I have been asked lately where a racer could get his wife started in an inexpensive dragster class. They want to race in a category that is the fairest, least expensive, and most fun. They have a 350 Chevy motor and don't want to hassle with electronics. Here is my recommendation to them.
It all kind of depends on what exactly you mean by "dragster." Are you talking dragster in the sense of long wheelbase, slingshot type dragster or just in the generic dragster as in any car that drag races? Anyway, if it is the latter, any car or truck will do. Pull in and race in the street class. Some places have a learner's class for people who have never raced before. This class helps new people get their feet wet before being thrown in with the sharks.
And there are plenty of sharks, even in street class at most tracks, generally called Street 101 or something. This is as cheap as it gets and is lots of fun.
Be aware though that there are a LOT of sharks even in the street class. Sometimes known as duck hunters, these racers will try to use your wife as first round cannon fodder. This is the reason some tracks have gone to the Street 101 class to give the new people some breathing room before being dumped into the deep end of the pond.
If it is the former and you actually have a dragster, then it becomes a lot more difficult to answer the question. I know of guys who have run true dragsters in street with a bone stock 350, leaving off the bottom bulb with no trans brake, no electronics, etc. This is just a stab it and steer it sort of deal, but then the purists tend to start whining about the dragster not being a street car. Of course, these same people are going to tell you that a car with a 540" blown and injected 1200 hp Chevy that runs well into the seven-second zone is a street car. They drive it on the street and have the registration to prove it.
There is a LOT of politics, head games and all manner of crap associated with racing in street just like in any other class. We have been down this road a bit. We built a '90 Mustang with a cage and a narrowed 9" four link rear suspension. It was tubed, lightened, etc., but only had a bone stock 351 engine out of one of our pickups with mileage on it, and a very good torque converter. Nothing else. The car will jerk the wheels on the line; it's real impressive for a stab and steer car.
One of the first times we had the car out, a couple of the other regular street car people complained that we had a shift light in the car. Yeah, the car with the addition of a few odds and ends could run in Super/Pro and would be a safe ride at 9.50s and 135 to 140 mph. But nothing in the car is against the rules for street, so the whiners had to find something to complain about and it was the shift light. Of course, Blacky walked over to three cars within spitting distance that had the same tach with a shift light and the complaining sort of fizzled real fast.
Now you show up with a long wheelbase dragster and you can be sure of plenty of complaining, even if the car meets all the requirements to run in the class. If you and your wife have real thick hide, you could go this route.
The next step up would be one of the NO ELECTRONICS classes that many tracks are going to. I would suggest you give this class the most consideration. Still lots of controversy here as well. Trans brakes -- yes/no. Two steps -- yes/no. Air shifters -- yes/no. Tachs with shift lights -- yes/no. This could go on and on and the complaining goes on and on. This is a sort of street car class on steroids. Generally accepted universal rules for this class are not really ironed out as of yet. Again, I'd point you in this direction.
Next, you could go to a Pro class. Pro is sort of like Super/Pro with trans brakes and some driving aids like air shifters, etc. Basically, it's just a slow Super Pro class. You could try to run in this class but I doubt you could slow a dragster down enough to make the ET cutoff for the class. Even with a bone stock, 210 hp 350, you will have to add a lot of weight to do this and then you'd still not fare well against all the people with the electronic aids.
To do what you want to do in Super/Pro is pissing into the wind; all you're going to get here is your shoes wet. Forget this altogether.
I wouldn't even entertain the idea of trying to run a "class" car, i.e., NHRA regional and national events, unless you have unlimited time and money and I gather you don't. Stick with the bracket scene.
Set some time aside and go to a few of the tracks at which you're thinking about running the car. Talk to everyone and find out just what the lay of the land is. Play around in street with the car that got you there. If they have it, run the Street 101 class for beginners. Look at what's going on and how the game is played. Talk to the
owner/ operator/ manager and tell him what you have in mind. See what he says. If he is helpful, great -- you have found a place to race. If he blows you off, find another place to race.
Well, that's my take on what you're looking at.