Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Larry Sutton on modern big money drag racers vs the golden age racers on the 60s and 70s

“Today, the drivers have very little to do,” he started slowly, then kept building, with each example cited more incredulously and louder than the last. “Their car gets pulled up to the lane by their crew – of thousands – and the driver dons his $2,000 helmet that’s designer like their [firesuit]. They climb into their padded seat and their padded roll cage, put on their six-piece [safety belts], and the crew starts the car. He does a burnout and backs up but doesn’t even drive to the starting line. The crew pushes him to the line. So he’s got a billet block, billet heads, and billet crank, and a crewman walks up and turns on the computer. He leaves the line and gets down there a ways, and it drops a hole, and right in the lights, the blower pops, but one of [Dennis] Taylor’s restraints holds it in place. He doesn’t even have to pull the parachute or shut off the motor because it’s all electronics. He doesn’t even have to turn off the racetrack because they come out there with a quad with a roller on it, and they push him off the track. Then he gets out of the car, and someone takes all his safety gear off of him so he can be interviewed. Just then, his opponent comes up to him and gives him a big hug because he’s glad he’s safe. Then, when he’s done with the interview, he gets into a golf cart -- that someone else is driving – and he goes back to his beautiful 18-wheeler and sends his family and friends to the hospitality trailer to have fine cuisine by the hired chef while he goes to the lounge because he’s exhausted.

“In the early days at Irwindale, he’d show up at the track with the car on a flatbed trailer, maybe a couple of friends to help, and the owner. They get ready to run, so the driver dons his ironing-board-cover one-layer firesuit and puts on his helmet that he wears during the week to ride his Harley. So they go to push-start him, and the fire-up road is really narrow, and he’s trying to keep the car on the push bar and keep the car straight because if he goes to the side, he’s going under the fence. He can’t hear anything because the new people who are push-starting him are screaming bloody murder. He’s got to let go of the steering wheel with one hand to hit the [ignition] switch. He doesn’t have an electric starter. He makes the turn and hopes the starter does not see the leaking front and rear seals into which he’s stuffed rags. He pulls up there and leaves and hopes that his single-disc, three-finger clutch – not a 100-finger, six-disc clutch – doesn’t slip so it won’t come apart and come through the welded aluminum bellhousing that may not hold up.

“He’s blazing down the course, and suddenly the breathers start breathing, and he’s getting a face full of oil. The blower comes off, and because Taylor hasn’t yet invented the blower restraint, the blower bounces down the track alongside the car. He reaches over and pulls the 16-foot ring-slot parachute that he just bought at the war surplus store. He can’t understand why it blew up because he only has 20 runs on the steel box rods. He’s slipping and sliding in his own oil, on fire, and his Vans are starting to get real hot on his feet. He makes the last turnoff with his opponent – the one who burned him down on the starting line – and he is so mad, but his car is still on fire, and there’s no one down there to help him, so he gets some Irwindale dirt and throws it on the motor to put the fire out. He’s so mad at his opponent that he wants to break his nose. He’s waiting for his crew, and he’s waiting for a long, long time. When they finally show up and he asks where they’ve been, they tell him that when they made the turn after the push-start that the toolbox fell out of the back of the truck, and they had to pick up all of the tools. They get back to the pit area, where they don’t have 10 motors to choose from – that was their only engine -- and the guy he just beat and whose neck he wanted to break walks up and offers his whole car and crew to them to put their motor in his car. That’s the difference between early racing and nowadays."


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