A human body does two things when hit with 22,000 horsepower.
They happen simultaneously. When the Christmas Tree lights go green, both eardrums explode with enough force to make one believe they no longer exist, as the sound can only be described as if two nuclear bombs have dropped. Just as quickly, a vibration so forceful the body wants to crumble takes over the diaphragm.
Welcome to the starting line of an NHRA event. Here is where everything one thinks he or she knows about speed and power burns to the ground as quick as a Funny Car or Top Fuel dragster makes it to the finish line.
Said experience was a new one for this writer Friday. Alongside Toyota Racing and embedded with Kalitta Motorsports, the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol were every bit as life-changing as the folks there said it would be.
Watching stock cars going in circles have been a way of life for me for many years, and hearing a NASCAR engine come to life has always been a joyful experience. But a NASCAR engine doesn’t hit every fiber of your being, and it doesn’t rumble beneath your feet as much as one thinks it does. Its power doesn’t make you question the control you have on your own body.
Standing at the Bristol starting line — and at one point next to the legendary Connie Kalitta at the left lane Christmas tree — for every Funny Car and Top Fuel qualifying attempt, it never became comfortable dealing with the force. Just a few cars in it becomes easy to feel exhausted from just standing and watching. And no matter how much it hurts or how you know what’s coming, there is also no turning away or wanting to escape. Bring the next two drivers and cars to the line and let’s do it again!
Before witnessing a qualifying run for the first time, a team member said they wanted a one-word reaction afterward. The word changed after every run and with every passing hour.
Insane. Thrilling. Incredible.
Watching the Kalitta team at work in the hospitality/pit area produces a few different emotions. Like a choreographed dance, every member knows their role, what to touch, and where to be when the car is prepared for its next run. Space around it is tight, and yet they never touch each other.
The access is night and day different from NASCAR: Everything and everyone is out in the open, friendliness isn’t an issue, the atmosphere feels lighter, and the day flies by with every minute of every hour utilized as the team goes over the engine while 2018 Funny Car champion J.R. Todd repacks his parachute and dumps the fuel into his car. Plus, there’s just something about being able to stand underneath a Funny Car when its body sits detached from the block.
After some back and forth, the consensus was being right in front of the car when it was fired during warm-up was a must. Amazingly, it’s not the noise during this activity that stands out. It’s the nitro suddenly burning the nose and causing the eyes to bleed every ounce of liquid they possess uncontrollably.
Don’t rub your eyes! If nothing else, those were the most important words of the day. Let the tears fall freely.
Don’t wipe your face either. Like a Waffle House menu, being covered and smothered in rubber means the day was a success.
Have no fear, the draw of NASCAR is still there and will continue to be. Except walking back into that garage is likely going to bring a new perspective because one cannot experience 22,000 horsepower in person and not leave with a new appreciation for power and speed.
Now, Google, what’s the best way to remove rubber from clothing and skin?