When I first started driving fuel dragsters, everything felt like slow-motion in the car during a run. I know this sounds like just the opposite of what you might expect. And I don’t know if you other drivers reading this had the same feeling or if it all seemed to be happening way too fast. I have ADHD, so that could make my experience entirely different from other drivers. But I remember when I ran at Green Valley Raceway near Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas, in the early 1960’s, we push-started our race cars with our tow trucks towards the starting line from a position about 3/4 down the track from the starting line.
We called it the pushdown road and we got on it from the pit area at about the 1000 foot mark of the 1320 foot quarter mile drag strip. Someone nicknamed it “The Loop” and we called it that forever. We lined up on the pushdown road about 4 or 5 cars deep with our push trucks and the two cars at the front of this line would start to push down towards the starting line and fire up when the two cars racing on the track left the line on their run.
Then with the engines fired, we would turn around behind the starting line, do our burnouts, stage the cars and make our run. This is where the relaxed, slow-motion feeling started for me. While pulling into the staging beams I could see the pre-stage and staging light on the tree, but also the starter, a man with the button that made the lights come down on the tree when both cars were properly staged, and all of the pit crew guys moving around my car and my opponent’s car and all of his crew.
It was like my peripheral vision suddenly widened out and I was aware of everything going on in the area and yet still had laser-like concentration on the tree. I know it sounds strange, but it was relaxing. There was no tension, no racing heartbeat, just a relaxed readiness and heightened concentration. Maybe that’s what true confidence is. I always had that. I always expected to leave first and to win the race. And most of the time, I DID BOTH!
On this one particular day, I was staged and ready to launch, the four yellow lights started down on the tree, and as usual, I left on the last yellow, leaving on my opponent who was waiting to leave on the green light at the bottom of the tree, like I assume most other drivers did. But I found out early in my career that I could leave on the last yellow without red-lighting, thus getting a nice “hole-shot” on him that produced many a win light for me at the finish line.
When I passed “The Loop” at the 1000 foot mark, my relaxed state and my widened peripheral vision allowed me to notice the race cars and push trucks lined up there and I was amazed to see that I could actually recognize people I knew, standing by the cars, even though I was flying by them at around 150 MPH!
But the real surprise was yet to come.
I won the race, pulled the chute at the finish line and reached for the magneto kill switch, a small surplus aircraft toggle switch mounted on the steering wheel. It felt like my usual soft, slow-motion movement as always, but my reach was a little high and I hit the end of the switch with my finger with what felt like a light bump, then reached again, hitting it right to cut off the mag before pulling firmly on the brake handle to slow down for the turnoff.
It was a hot Summer day as usual and I wanted out of my helmet and fire suit ASAP! Got the car stopped, released the seat belts, climbed out, undid my mask and helmet before my crew drove up in the push truck. Pulled off my 3-layer fireproof gloves and to my great surprise, saw my right hand index finger that I had hit the kill switch with was purple on the end. A big bruise or a broken blood vessel had popped up immediately from that “light touch” on the blunt end of the kill switch.
So much for my feeling of soft, slow-motion movements in my eight second, 175 mph runs of the day! I must have been moving like a gorilla instead of a ballerina like I thought I was. My brain was way ahead of my body movements at those speeds, I guess. I don’t know how else to explain it. My purple finger said so as it started to hurt like hell!
I finished the race that day and won the event with a very sore finger, but I really did try to slow down my movements in the car from then on. And at least I never damaged any more body parts.
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - by Ben Griffin