Ahh…Smell The CH3NO2
by Ed Miller
By the earliest of my teenage years, I was already an aficionado of nitro drag racing. Being a Texas boy, that meant I journeyed out to Caddo Mills to see Bobby Langley, Vance Hunt, Eddie Hill, and those Carroll Brothers battle first amongst themselves and then later with the hot shoes from California, the Midwest, and Florida that towed to the Lone Star state to challenge the local heroes for supremacy in Top Fuel. When I saw my first National Record holder, it was Cook and Bedwell, who cranked out what seemed at the time like an almost otherworldly 9.67 ET at 160-something miles an hour. Then as now, the best of the best owed their blazing performance to the fact that they burned nitromethane in their blown, hemi-powered dragsters.
My first clue that the future might be bleaker than I imagined was when Wally Parks and the nascent NHRA decided - in their ultimate wisdom - that these cars were just going faster speeds than humans could possibly handle, and to slow them down, forbade forevermore the use of that violent and perhaps dangerous fuel, nitromethane. The infamous NHRA Fuel Ban that began in the late 1950s and continued through the early ‘60s provided the insight that all my drag strip dreams might not work out as wondrously as had been previously imagined.
What could not then be foreseen was the imminent emergence of the Texas Pro Fuel Circuit as an immediate reaction to the NHRA’s foolish fuel decision. California and the rest of the country might go submissively back to gasoline following the edict, but here in Texas, those of us haunting the pit area were already hearing the now quite familiar and oft-quoted phrase that “gasoline’s for washing parts, alcohol’s for drinking, and nitromethane’s for racing.” The NHRA might be able to compel the rest of the country to go along with their widely scorned nitro ban, but here in Texas there was a frontier mentality to be reckoned with, and a strong attitude among many staunch fuel racers that they would rather - By God! - fight than switch. And so we did!
Before the NHRA could get a grip on the reality of the situation, they had already given the AHRA a reason to exist. AHRA’s vital difference, of course, was that, unlike Wally and the West Coast guys, they allowed nitro. The Ban gave them an opportunity they otherwise would never have had and several years to get their feet firmly planted as a viable competitor, before NHRA pulled its head out after a half-decade of delusion and finally faced the facts. When Texas fuel racers ran, it was right into the welcoming arms of the AHRA.
It was no surprise that the AHRA Nationals was soon installed as seemingly a permanent feature at the now-gone-but-never-to-be-forgotten Green Valley Raceway that sprang up like a mushroom almost overnight in Bill McClure’s cow pasture between Dallas and Fort Worth. Fifty years ago, while the NHRA fans were watching the races through a haze of black carbon smoke from the gasoline, over at the other guys’ tracks there were Top Fuel and Junior Fuel Dragsters, Fuel Modified Roadsters, Fuel Competition Coupes, Fuel Roadsters, and Fuel Motorcycles all belching out nose-searing clouds of eye-watering nitro fumes.
We all now know the outcome of that little fiasco half a century ago: the reality check decision by the NHRA to resume nitro racing and the ultimate demise of the original AHRA. Re-imagining nitro as a safe fuel allowed the NHRA to regain its ascendancy to dominance, fostered by the legions of “pop” burning , pre-Funny Car, altered-wheelbase Factory Experimentals and incredible performances by the front engine dragsters.
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