In 2005 Hot Rod Magazine kick-started a trend which has revolutionised how many people enjoy their automotive hobby today: Drag Week. Born from an idea David Freiburger had to find the fastest and quickest genuine street car in America, 40 cars were entered into a 1500-mile torture test, racing at five different drag strips in five days, with no support cars or trailers allowed. This was the epitome of “run what ya brung, and hope you brung enough”.
Eighteen years later and there are dozens of similar events following the same recipe held all over the world, including Australia. People build cars specifically to compete in these events, with a variety of classes catering to all manner of budgets, and the cars themselves are wild pieces of engineering. Meanwhile, traditional static car shows see dwindling entrants and spectators, and few people are building show cars which sit on custom-built displays with mirrors underneath them.
Before I get into explaining how “drag ‘n’ drive” events killed the traditional static car show, a history lesson. There have been arguments about who has the fastest car in town ever since the second automobile rolled out of the shed it was built in, and it is the pursuit of being able to claim the title of “fastest street car” is a powerful motivator. Basically, everyone wants to be Top Dog On The Block.
The Goodguys hot rod association had held a “Fastest Street Rod” series in the 1980s, but Hot Rod Magazine really kicked things off in 1992 with their Fastest Street Car Shootout. This was the first time a large-scale competition had tested so-called street cars by making them do a road loop in the middle of their racing event, though it was nowhere near as tough as the 2000km roadtrip they do on Drag Week!
For the Fastest Street Car Shootout HRM gathered 26 brawlers in Memphis at the height of the huge-tyre, metal-mountain “Pro Street” era, where street cars looked like pure drag machines. In these pre-Internet days the myth of the fastest car was akin to hearing about a monster living in the abandoned house just out of town; there was always rumours of some wicked-fast sled the next postcode over, but until 1992 nobody brought all these cars together in one place to actually duke it out.
Today, the popularity of these events can also partly be explained by the rising cost of old cars, parts and trades to work on them meaning people want to enjoy their expensive hobby by driving the finished result of years of hard work, but there are many other reasons drag ’n’ drive events have captured so many hearts and minds. For one, the engineering challenge of building a car to withstand a 1500-2000km roadtrip with five back-to-back days of flat-out drag racing is a huge mountain to climb given the cars’ performance potential.
The first winner of Drag Week, Carl Scott, averaged 8.58-second ETs over the five days with an average trap speed of 157.13mph (253km/h) in his fat-tyred, 540ci (8.85L) Chevy Nova. Today there are average street cars running those numbers and the top Unlimited Class cars are into the five-second bracket as Tom Bailey went 5.998@250mph in his 1969 Chevy Camaro “Sick II”, which is faster than many pure drag cars that never have to double as road machines!
Pure speed and running numbers is one thing, but getting these same cars to go wickedly fast and hang together on a week-long roadtrip adds a level of complexity most drag racing fans had never encountered before drag ‘n’ drive events popped up. On top of all the horsepower and safety equipment needed to run at the strip, cars competing in them need headlights, windshield wipers, an interior light (or torch cable-tied to the roll cage) carpet, cupholders, somewhere to charge phones, and all the other niceties needed when sitting in a roasting hot tin box on backroads for five days straight.
Finally, one of the most important attractions to these events is the camaraderie between entrants. Each event will see random racers hooking up and travelling together, becoming strong friends and part of a family sharing a challenge together.
Speaking to veterans of drag ‘n’ drive events it is this bond that often keeps bringing them back, through all the adversity of fixing transmissions or engines by the side of the road, of surviving on almost no sleep and through terrible weather conditions, all for the glory of saying you finished one of the most difficult challenges you can do in a street car. This badge of honour can’t be bought, and you can’t pay someone to do it for you like you can with a car restoration: it has to be earned and that is something rare today.
Check us out ww.enthusiast.com.au.