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Having been involved in the sport of drag racing for over 45 years I thought I’d seen everything that the sport has to offer. Saturday, Sept. 11, I found out different.
I was asked by the esteemed editor of Drag Racing Online, Jeff Burk, if I wanted to go to the ADRL Dragstock race at nearby Rockingham Dragway and pen a brief sidebar describing my first-time experience at an ADRL race. I had nothing planned for the weekend, and as I knew about the ADRL’s business model where they give out literally thousands of free tickets in the local market, how you could even get a free ticket online, and how they’ve been packing drag strips all across the country, I decided to take Jeff up on his offer and go see with my own eyes what went on at an ADRL race.
Being a jaded nitro junkie I kinda wasn’t expecting to be impressed but let me tell you this, I was blown away by the whole experience.
It all started when I pulled up to the track and the parking lot was 3/4 full at 9 a.m. I’ve been going to Rockingham since the 1970s and I was amazed about how many cars were in the lot three hours before racing was scheduled to start. I picked up my press credential and parking pass and made my way to the pit gate, pulled in, found a parking spot, and again I freaked out. There were race cars (and drag bikes) everywhere, the pits were packed, and literally thousands and thousands of fans were roaming the pits and the midway was jammed with manufacturers displays and vendors. I spent the next few hours walking around the pits checking out the scene and seeing a lot of old friends I haven’t seen in a while – a very enjoyable experience.
I ran into legendary crew chief and a long time friend of mine Tim Richards who was there tuning Shiek Khalid Al-Thani’s Pro Extreme car and he told me the track was “very tight” and he said that we were going to see a lot of big numbers today on the scoreboards. He was right, as both ADRL and track records were set and reset during qualifying in all five classes.
When the final qualifying session started at noon, the grandstands were packed to the max. I’ve never seen the Rockingham stands that full, ever. For the next three hours I watched all of the ADRL classes attack the track trying to get into the sixteen car fields. I viewed from a bunch of different vantage points, including the starting line, the press room in the tower, and then I ventured into the grandstands with the fans. That was the best.
The rabid Carolina fans really dig the doorslammers and cheered just about every run. Where I was sitting in the stands there were a few people betting on the outcome of each and every race and I joined in on the fun. I had a good time wagering with the very vocal fans and even came away with more money than I started with, which is a good thing.