The 2001 IHRA Northern Nationals
By Doug Dornbos
I was only able to attend the IHRA Northern Nationals for one day of qualifying, Saturday. Here is some minutia about that day:
1. My 17-year-old son went with me and saw/heard motors run on fuel for the first time. I try to refrain from using the expression "You just gotta" in my life regardless of what it is so I tend to downplay things a lot. I had told him "the fuel cars and bikes are really loud." Apparently, I had downplayed that, too. He thought they were cool. I was real glad to be able to share the event with him. Just a short week ago, I was at the Mile-High Nationals with my dad so it seemed fitting to be at the drags with my son a week later.
2. The first thing we did when we got to the track was to open the rear hatch on the Aerostar and find that my packing job had shifted and the mega-size Tupperware bowl of grapes I had picked off the stems and washed the night before had somehow worked it's way to the back and instantly emptied onto the ground when the opportunity presented itself. Oh well. After going into the stands and taping down our blanket (IHRA races do not have 100% reserved seats like the "other guys") we went into the pits winding up close to the van so we decided to go back for a beverage to take into the stands for the pro session. Upon approaching the van, we saw that someone had left a large note for us tucked under the rear wiper. When we got close enough to read it, it read simply: "Free Grapes" with an arrow pointing down. There's one in every crowd (actually, my experience would indicate that there is more than one in every crowd).
3. Walking through the pits, I saw what I thought was one of the nicest looking cars, the "Gotham City" Pro Mod machine with a HUGE picture of Batman on the side. VERY cool car. I was disappointed that it never made a qualifying run in either the noon or the night session. What it did do was point out to us that many of the graphics on other cars were way too detailed to be deciphered from the stands. Oh they look cool close up, but from the stands, especially approaching dusk, they were virtually indecipherable as to what the picture was actually of.
4. The Pro sessions lasted approx. 3 hours each. Cleanup time was minimal both times.
5. The only nasty event was a motor let go and blew a 3 ft. jagged edged diameter "Frisbee" from the fiberglass hood into the RV parking near the top end of the race track. To my knowledge, no one got hurt from that and no doubt someone got a great souvenir. The driver also unfortunately got the souvenir of some burned skin when his parachute didn't open and he landed in the sand pit on fire. The helicopter from Spectrum Health had to come in and fly him out. Reports on the PA system later in the day said he OK and in good spirits. I would imagine the IHRA website has an update by now.
6. Things can sure happen fast as the Diamond P cameraman at the 330 foot mark had to leave his post in a big hurry a couple of times during the evening session as both times he had a doorslammer aimed right down his lens. Hard to remember to take your headphones off when you're in that big of a hurry. Oh that cord...
7. Only seven nitro cars qualified both at the noon session and the evening session. After being at the NHRA show only a week earlier, it seemed like a short fuel show. BUT, the final pair at night ran a side by side pair of 4.7 something's with the flames in full view the whole length and it was a very fitting end to the day of racing. The crowd loved it. It's also the track record if I am not mistaken.
8. Another track record that was set this weekend was attendance. Holy SRO Batman! They certainly did not let the fact that they were out of seats translate into being out of tickets. On the north side of the track where I don't recall there ever being many people standing before, there were spots where the people were 4 deep at the fence and they were lined up for pretty much the whole quarter. The stands were absolutely packed although we did spot a couple of spots were there was a little hole with no one in it but it could have been they had a blanket taped down there which we couldn't see from across the way. They enlarged parking before last year and the new parking was packed. They still had to park across the road. I had to wonder how much of the crowd was due to the following factors: a.) US 131 Dragway (50 miles away?) being closed for the year, b.) growth of the Mid-Michigan Motorplex, c.) growth of the IHRA, or d.) growth of drag racing in general.
9. The cross marketing of new IHRA owners SFX was obvious with the "Gravedigger" monster truck on display in the pits and also I spotted some monster truck T-shirts around which I have never noticed before.
10. Who else do you suppose was in the pits on Manufacturer's Row? Why it was Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing with their display including Swamp Rat 1. How cool is that? It stopped more than it's fair share of lookers. It was one of the coolest things there in my book. Looking in the car, there were numerous notes in magic marker written on the sheet metal concerning various runs it had made. I noticed a note about Fallon, NV and was disappointed for a moment that the ADRA race wasn't going to happen at Milan in a few weeks from now. But what really hit me about the Garlits display is the dichotomy between being in the pits in Denver last week, with the NHRA selling their coffee-table history book with nary a picture of Garlits in the whole thing, and this week being at the IHRA event with a Garlits display there. Maybe it's apples and oranges to you but it all seems like fruit to me.
11. The crowd certainly is a "night session" crowd. Maybe it's due to promoting it as the "Night of Fire" or maybe it's just due to the fact that many of the guys figure their kids or girlfriends won't last a whole day anyway. They just kept pouring in the gates in the late afternoon.
12. Before completely leaving the NHRA vs. IHRA thought, I wondered a little bit about why the NHRA never has exhibition jet cars at it's national event. Maybe it does but just not the ones I go to. Or maybe their nitro show is so good they don't need it. Or maybe they don't want anything with a "coolness quotient" higher than their nitro cars. Or.... ahhh, I'm thinking too hard again. One pair of jet dragsters. The crowd goes wild.
13. Way more RV's than I ever remember seeing before. And oh yes, the obligatory party there that builds the scaffolding up about 40 feet for a superior lookout. Hey, how do they pee from up there? Every disgusting option including holding it or climbing down seems unacceptable to me; maybe I'm just getting old.
14. New cement barriers at the edge of the track on the top end. The guy next to me claimed it was at the request of the IHRA.
15. Only two inline-6's at the race that I could see. I heard rumor that the Inliner's International national event would be held in Michigan next year. That would be great for me!
16. One of the inlines there, a Ford J/A in Modified, was using 2 Chrysler W-7 (Chapman?) aluminum heads with one cylinder cut off each and welded together in the middle to make the straight 6. The pushrods don't fit in the right place so they have to be run outside the block for this setup to work. I really like the trick stuff like this but it's seems way too easy to eliminate the "stock parts" guys from drag racing. I hope the IHRA does something (like giving the stock-heads guys an index of their own) to keep the stock-head guys in the sport.
17. In the pits, being an AMC fan, I paid particular attention to the Lil' Redskin pair of Gremlins. On one trip past their pit, one of the Gremlins was gone, no one was around the pit except their big dog on a chain (another difference between IHRA and NHRA, at the IHRA races you see several dogs in the pits). The dog was almost "on point," not bristled, but at attention with his gaze affixed at some distant spot. I realized it when I walked through his gaze and he never flinched or diverted his attention. Then a few minutes later, the other Gremlin came idling up the pit road from that direction. From the angles involved etc., I honestly believe that in the maze of noises from the multiple hundreds of cars there, that the dog could actually pick out and recognize his owner's car and knew before he could see it that his owner was coming up the pit road. Amazing.
18. We ate at 5:30 just before the evening Pro session. I was disappointed that I missed Jim Lindsay's Pepper Mill J/A run first round in Modified but he got bumped up in the show to allow a competitor to ready himself for the Top 8 program later. I was busy seasoning nine Porterhouse steaks and getting them on the grill and was just too far from the stands to make it in time to see his run. He lost in the first round. Somehow, we got to cheering for Lindsay over the years and look forward to seeing him every year. He got ousted in round one along with half of the other guys.
19. We ate well. Porterhouse steaks and bratwurst, all done on three Holland Grill's. We also had apple and peach pie that I had baked at home on Friday. BTW, I bought the Mrs. Smith's Deep-Dish pies this year and they are excellent. Since Sarah Lee is a large employer in the city I live in, it's a hard thing to endorse anyone else's pie but these are well worth extra buck.
20. We had 3 father/son combinations, 1 father/son in-law set, one father/son/father in-law, grandsons combo, and one pair of friends all eating in the parking lot together. These are all friends from various periods of my life. I've got great friends. I've got great family. I'm a blessed man.
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