Dennis – I hope you don't mind my asking a few blunt questions.
Here's the deal: myself and a few friends who have been involved in bracket
racing for 15 or 20 years have talked about this sort of thing [racing a jet
dragster] more than a few times and sort of like the idea. I mean we aren't
looking to make a killing, just a decent living, keep the bills paid, and
put a little aside. I at this point I think that most of us enjoy the
atmosphere at most of the race tracks we have been to, we don't need to live
too high off the hog, and we don't mind the travel.
We have talked to one or two jet operators and its seems that we more or
less get, "Oh, all you have to do is pack the chutes, pour 30 gallons
of kerosene in it, and make your three or four laps." Now, not
coincidentally I am sure, these seem to be the guys who are trying to sell
their operation and do something else because they're bored or tired of it
or something else. So, what's the straight poop? Is it worth it? I sure
would really appreciate any comments you would like to make. Later, Larry
Larry - You hit a nerve with these questions. They are very good
and insightful. If you don't mind, I would like to post your questions and
my reply for everyone to read. Dennis
1. Do you enjoy what you are doing?
I am living a life long dream. The business end of what I am doing is
VERY frustrating and I often find myself wishing that I would quit. But I
keep it up, so I guess the proper answer is "Yes, I enjoy what I am
2. Do you make a living at it or is it hand to mouth?
It is hand to mouth. I have had to pay child support on my charge card in
the past, I'm nursing a truck with 500,000 miles and a trailer with
1,000,000 miles, and I was forced to leave my family behind in Wisconsin in
order to move to Kentucky for the lower cost of living. This is because I am
forced to live on approximately $5,000.00/year
3. What do you make per booking and how is it structured?
I am one of the highest paid jets in the business at $2,500.00 for three
runs. It is broken down by percentage per pass. And the agent receives 10%.
4. What are the expenses involved in running a jet?
The initial investment is approximately $100,000.00. Traveling and
maintenance are the greatest expenses. Most every race date involves an
average of 2,000 miles at about 25 to 50 cents per mile. The number of race
dates you run are generally proportionate to how fast you run, and the
faster you run, the more you break. And replacement parts are becoming very
rare and expensive.
5. How much of a crew do you need?
Crew is part of the traveling expense. We are generally on the road from
Thursday to Tuesday, so someone with a full time job is out of the question.
I have always traveled alone and relied on finding help at the track. This
sometimes is a VERY frightening situation. As I've mentioned before, the
newsgroups have been invaluable at helping me find exceptional help wherever
6. Do you have to bust ass all the time to run a booking?
The tracks are expending a significant amount of money booking the talent
and paying for advertising, and they take these events very personally.
There is a lot of screaming and yelling, and hurry up and wait, and good
decisions and bad decisions being made, so in general, yes, they are
constantly busting our ass.
7. How easy are bookings to come by?
The jet community is facing a terrible supply and demand problem. There
are too many cars for the number of race dates available. My bookings have
dropped on an average of four dates per year for the past four or five
years. Fewer and fewer tracks are running a special show of their own
creation. Although the rewards can be staggering, the risk can cripple a
small track with one bad weekend. Most larger tracks are opting for a booked
in show like Super Chevy and Fun Ford. And most tracks that do have a jet
show have practiced using fewer cars every year. It is very seldom that you
will see six or eight jets booked into a single event like the old days at
Union Grove, Wisconsin. Most of those shows have been reduced to only two
As advertising and operating costs go up, the only place a track has left
to reduce its costs is in the talent. Our costs have increased, too, so the
tracks have responded by booking fewer cars. If the customer doesn't
complain (i.e., ever increasing gate count), why should the track owner
complain? Besides, if the gate count goes down, you can always blame that
particular pair of cars you booked and replace them with someone else next
8. What would be the costs of constructing a new jet?
I would advise against building a new car. Because of the demands on
performance and the increasing cost of parts, coupled with the complexity of
making one of these cars run fast, it would be almost financial suicide.
There are too many good used cars available at any given time to ever
consider getting started with a new car. If you are serious about getting
started, I will be more than happy to help you shop objectively.
9. How fast would you be able to pay it off?
My car is ten years old. I have worked very hard at keeping it
competitive, and as the new cars get lighter, the chance of keeping a car
for ten years will be close to impossible. My car has still not been able to
pay for the initial investment. My only hope is to recoup that cost when I
10. Would a dragster or a flopper in your opinion be a better car?
My personal preference is a dragster. The initial cost is lower. The
longer wheelbase in my mind makes it safer. A funny car generally needs a
more qualified crew person to handle the body. The dragster is more bookable
if you can prove that it will run 300 mph (but not more than 305 mph), but
there are fewer funny cars in the business so the funny car owners claim
they are a little easier to book.
11. How often do you get stiffed by the operator or have problems getting
Problems with getting paid? I don't want to go there. It is a shame
that in this day and age and the level of our professionalism that this
should still be an issue.
12. How hard is it to drive one of these deals?
These cars are very different from wheel driven cars. My data logger
proves that it does not start to decelerate (negative Gs) until one second
after the engine is killed. This is a very strange feeling to get used to.
It is rare to a jet, and probably one of the major causes of trouble. The
car is very drivable, but you have to learn when not to.
Absolutely no condition can be driven through. You must develop a feel of
the seat sense for trouble, and learn to give up the run. The car can only
be stopped with the chutes. The brake pedal is your last and worse choice.
Using it has a very high and probably fatal risk involved. Most wheel driven
cars teach you just the opposite. If you cannot learn this skill, you will
lose a very expensive car, or worse, your life.
13. Could a guy in his forties in reasonable health do something like this?
I am 49. I apprenticed as a crew for ten years before building this car
thirteen years ago. I plan to drive until I am in my mid to late 50s, but I
am currently building a lightweight car and will be looking for a younger,
lightweight driver to replace me at major shows. That is the natural
progression of this business. Marketing will be the primary qualification
for a new driver.
14. I have heard that NHRA can get really pissy about speed limits and such,
is this so?
NHRA is a major concern in this business. The number one jet driver
(Marvin Celsur) had his license removed several years ago shortly after he
was officially recognized as the first jet to run in the fours. It was not a
lifetime suspension, but the fine was so stiff that he will never be able to
satisfy it. We are required to operate within a 5-mph window. The track
wants 300, but NHRA doesn't want 306. They give us a 10% fudge factor, but
they have the ability to end your driving career and they will if you
give them the opportunity.
15. Does NHRA have a big hold on jet cars in any way that affects what you
can make or do?
NHRA is our primary licensing sanctioning body. They have VERY strict
rules concerning construction, engine type, construction techniques, and the
driver licensing procedure. Getting and maintaining a license is a very
expensive and complicated procedure. They do not have any control over how
or where we book the cars; however, it has been very rare for me to ever
book my car at a national event track other than those that are family
I love my car. I have owned many race cars in my life, and this one has been
very good to me. It is the only car I have ever driven on a drag strip.
Given an option of running my jet or any other form of racing, I would
probably have to quit if this class ever went away. And that's the
Cross Fire Jet Dragster
1489 Briensburg Rd
Benton, KY 42025