A Case for the 1/8th
by Clint Dobbs
NDW welcomes on board one of our old friends, Clint Dobbs, with his take on the positive aspects of 1/8-mile drag racing. Clint is a second generation drag racer and the long-time starter at NorthStar Dragway in Denton, Texas.
When I first heard there was a dragstrip in my hometown, I was shocked. When I heard it was an 1/8th-mile facility, I was disappointed. What was the point of only building half a dragstrip? I grew up going to the races with my dad in the early sixties and quarter-mile racing was all I had ever known. In fact, some of my earliest memories constitute watching my dad make runs as I sat in the old checkerboard plywood timing shack at Houston, International in Baytown, Texas.
I must admit that my mind was very much against the idea of an 1/8th-mile facility and I put off going to the local track, NorthStar Dragway, for two years in protest. But, then one day, I just couldn’t resist and went to see what all the fuss was about. And much to my surprise, I found the whole experience rather enjoyable; in fact, as much as that of any ¼-mile facility that I’d ever attended before.
Having worked at both ¼ and 1/8th-mile tracks for over 12 years, I can say that my personal preference is definitely for the 1/8th-mile. Although NorthStar may not be the most luxurious representative of the latter, it’s fairly nice for a mom and pop operation. But mind you, at 3.2 million dollars, it wasn’t cheap to build and it’s certainly not cheap to staff or maintain.
Here are some of the reasons that I think 1/8th-mile tracks make a lot of sense. As the saying goes, “Sometimes less is more.” This is particularly true of an 1/8th-mile dragstrip. There’s less grass to mow, less wiring to short out, fewer bulbs to replace, less guardrail to get all bent up, less blacktop to patch, less taxes to pay and just plain less of everything that could possibly go wrong. If you’ve ever cleaned up a track after a major spill or dried one after a Texas rainstorm, you’ll definitely appreciate having to do less of either!
The environmental impact of a dragstrip is not small. Dragstrips make lots of noise and smoke. They consume vast quantities of chemicals and utilities and displace a significant amount of wildlife….except for bugs which seem to proliferate exponentially in the deafening cacophony. And if you’ve ever raced in Texas wind, you will also appreciate the fact that dragstrips generate and distribute vast quantities of garbage.
From a safety standpoint, 1/8th-mile facilities require less personnel and equipment to provide an equal amount of protection. And with the shorter distance traveled comes slower trap speeds, less injury and higher crash survival rates. Let’s face it, today’s cars are faster…a lot faster - in every category - and many tracks are countering this tendency by shortening run distances, especially in the fuel ranks. If you’ve watched professional ¼-mile Nostalgia racing lately, you can’t help but notice that most of the fuel cars are running the last 300 ft. on aluminum….the costly billet kind! High trap speeds mean plenty of oxygen to make fire. And if you’ve ever fought fire, you quickly realize that the compounds that make cars fast also make them vulnerable to combustion. My experience shows that chasing burning cars short distances is preferable to chasing them long distances. And a short track lends itself well to shorter emergency response times.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the 1/8th is greater visibility. It’s hard enough to see parts, spills and stalled cars on a shorter track, so you can imagine how much more those problems are compounded by the additional length of a ¼-mile strip, especially at night. I like the fact, that even with my diminished eyesight, I can still see all the way down to the last turnoff fairly clearly. I can also keep an eye on most of what’s going on in the pits, grandstands and parking lots….a fact that is brought to the fore when Texas heat accelerates the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Sadly, some people consider dragstrips to be the last bastions of Wild West mentality where fighting and gun slinging are par for the course. Being able to spot trouble quickly and marshal police to the scene can prevent some incidents altogether, and others before they get completely out of hand.
Finances are a big issue in today’s economy, and 1/8th-mile facilities cost less to operate and insure. They pay fewer taxes and suffer smaller losses when things don’t go as planned. When it comes to operating a dragstrip, minimizing losses and cutting costs are every bit as important as maximizing profits. Anyone who has ever handled the finances of a track can tell you that when they’re not generating revenue, they’re sucking it up like an F-5 tornado!
Although running the 1/8th means less seat time for the driver, it also means less time in the lanes and less time in a bulky fire suit, boots, gloves and helmet. Anyone that has raced in 115-degree heat will appreciate the fact that body temps can reach critical mass in short order when the sun is bearing down.
I can’t blame the old guard for wanting things to stay the same, but in this changing world, the hard economic realities and steady increase in car performance herald a new era, and some thing are going to have to change out of necessity and others for the sake of convenience. Drag racers being the survivors they are will inevitably learn to roll with the punches and see the wisdom of using less to make more of their racing experience.
One last possible benefit that I see from 1/8th-mile racing is that it might hold the key to the return of genuine ‘60s-style nostalgia cars. Although I don’t ever foresee the cackle cars racing the 1320 again, I see no reason why they wouldn’t be safe enough to run in the 1/8th. I sincerely believe that I’m not alone in my desire to see these cars turn a tire in anger some day in the near future. They are just too cool to leave in the closet or stash away in museums. And while cacklefests are unique and exciting, they don’t quite scratch the lingering itch that the “Golden Era of Drag Racing” left behind. Perhaps you will join me in the hope and dream that, one day, that window of opportunity will be flung wide open and the sight, sounds and excitement of the past will rise triumphant once again! Nostalgia Forever!
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Nostalgia Drag World - by Clint Dobbs
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