“Are you ready?” the official shouted over the sounds of the diesel tow vehicle cackling alongside my team and I, the conversations and shouts of inebriated fans and the chilling night air as it passed through the eye port of my helmet. I instinctively push in the clutch pedal, pull the brake handle back and open the throttle blades located inches behind my head with my right foot. I smell the gas from the small bottle my crew chief uses to prime the engine behind me as he pours it into the open injector hat.
“Close,” I hear him command. This is it, the moment in which everything slows down. I back all the way off of the throttle pedal and hear the starter start to whir until the gas that was just poured in reaches the top of the intake valve, drops into the cylinder and a spark ignites it with a dull moan. I pull back on the fuel lever with my left hand as the motor spins the giant mechanical fuel pump, allowing a mixture of nitromethane and methanol through the pump, into the lines and through the nozzles feeding the beast now roaring behind me. Fumes fill the air, the brave race fans lucky enough to get a wristband to be right next to the action tear up and turn away from the nitric acid being tossed from the exhaust pipes with magnificent force.
I quickly check my fuel pressure and then my oil pressure, look up and the crew chief is waving me forward. I release the brake handle and gently let out the clutch, pushing my twenty-five foot long stead forward through the water box and onto the rubber-laden concrete of the raceway.
I’m given the signal to start the burnout process. This part is nearly worth the price of admission alone. The hard work, the money, the stress, the bloody knuckles, the sore back and the ruined t-shirts – all of that floats away with the ritual of burning rubber onto concrete. I apply the throttle up to the stop, pulling back slightly on the brake handle to warm the carbon brakes located on the rear-end on each side of the car. The RPM reaches just a touch above 6,000. I let it hang there for a little longer than usual. This is my home track, they get to see these 10,000 horsepower machines only once per year and those stands are packed. I lift off the throttle, push the clutch pedal in and pull the brake handle, the thirty-six inch by fifteen inch rear tires giving a little squeal as they hook-up to the traction-compound recently sprayed over the quarter-mile racing surface.
As I slow to a stop, I can’t help but catch a view of the 12,000-plus people who’ve paid their hard earned dollars to attend watching on in bewilderment. The old, the young, the moms and dads, the overtired kids, teenagers on dates, office workers, veterans, construction workers and auto mechanics, enjoying hot dogs and sodas or beer, the smell of popcorn battling the smell of burning rubber and a nitromethane-breathing hemi.
This is what this whole thing is all about.
I throw the reverse lever to my left and let the clutch out as I let off the brakes. I move backward only slowing as a crew member steps out in front of me to guide me back into my tracks. I play with the clutch pedal to control my speed, glancing every so often at the oil pressure gauge to ensure that the engine is healthy. As I cross back over the starting line, the amber staging bulbs blink as the rear tires cross the stripe and again as the fronts do the same. I stop at my crew member’s behest and slide the reverse handle back into the forward gear and check my gauges. All good to go.
All the butterflies that were there before I pulled on my fifteen-layer firesuit, put on my helmet and pulled up my nomex boots and gloves long since fluttered away. The noise from the engine is almost like a white noise to me. The organized chaos surrounding me as the crew takes care of their tasks to ensure I am safe and the car is fast fades from my view. As my crew chief calls me forward, I lighten up on the brake and glide the clutch pedal in and out, commanding the car to slowly crawl forward towards the starting beams, and I get tunnel vision. I stop. I can see the Christmas Tree with its stage lights, three amber lights, the green light and red light sitting ahead of me and I can see down the track to the point that I always pick out to drive towards. The crew chief’s hand appears ahead of me signalling that all is clear and I’m good to go.
I drop the visor down on my helmet, inch the car forward and break the pre-stage beam, just inches away from where I’ll be starting my 300 mile per hour blast down the quarter mile that will take just over four-and-a-half seconds. I pull back on the fuel lever, opening the fuel pumps up to their full potential, more than one hundred gallons per minute, and I pull my foot off of the clutch pedal forcing the engine RPMs to drop. I drag the brake a bit to move the car forward. The stage beam blinks once, then twice before staying on. My eyes dart quickly to the very bottom amber bulb and as it lights I drop the brake handle and pound my right foot to the floor and…
“Good morning, Edmonton! It’s another snowy, windy and cold day here in the City of Champions. It’s Monday and it’s time to get ready for work!”
I reach over and slam the button to my left. Stupid alarm clock.