— story by Doug Stokes, photo by Jonathan Hui / Jhui Photography
August 13, 2016 — Irwindale Speedway, located about 20 miles East of downtown L.A., is known as one of the most competitive “short tracks” in NASCAR; its wide straights and deep progressive banking in the turns produce close, exciting racing every time the green flag drops on the half mile long oval track.
Its sister track, Irwindale Dragstrip, is another highly-competitive “short track.” It’s 660 feet of VHT-coated asphalt produces close one-on-one drag racing at its best.
Invited to come out and bring a friend for MPG’s “Night at the Drags”, many MPG members were surprised at the closeness (to the action) that a one eighth-mile NHRA drag strip affords its fans over the big pro-style quarter-miles that we see on television.
No, there’s no Funny Cars* or Top Fuel “rails”, but the variety of Street Legal and “EX” (for “experimental”) is very broad, as is the diversity of the people who come out to compete and the fans who come to watch. (*We do see second and third generation drivers like Del Worsham’s two daughters, and John Force’s grandson at Irwindale driving their own NHRA Junior Dragsters under the watchful eye of two of the fastest NHRA drivers ever.)
Many of the visiting MPG members had not been to Irwindale for an NHRA drag racing event and found out how much fun seeing a very fast and competitive drag race go off about every 25 seconds from 5p.m. to 10 o’clock can be. Line up, watch the “Christmas Tree” … yellow, yellow, yellow, GREEN! and you have a drag race!
Unlike even the most inexpensive NASCAR hobby stocker that needs a trailer and a tow vehicle to get it to the racetrack, at Irwindale at least 80% of the cars that take to the track every Thursday night are driven in and driven home later that evening.
Anyone with a valid driver’s license can be a NHRA drag racer for a night for just $20. Drivers are guaranteed a minimum of 3 runs, but many take many more, checking each performance with a timing slip that lists five different aspects of each run including reaction time, elapsed time, and miles per hour.
Unique to the eighth-mile is the fact that street legal cars that run 9.99 (seconds) or slower may take an adult passenger along.
Thursday night also produced some sizable clouds of tire smoke over at the other end of the always-busy 63-acre Irwindale Event Center property … on the NASCAR oval. Converted for the evening by the people from Formula Drift into legendary “The House of Drift,” it morphed into the course that will draw well over 10,000 people a day to a 6,500-seat stadium for the final event of the FD 2016 season on October 6th, 7th, and 8th.
It was a practice night for the Formula Drift drivers with over 30 of them on hand, scalding tires and sending cars sliding at impossible angles that seemed to defy logic on the banked NASCAR track.
From the roof of the administration building, the thick billows of tire smoke at times looked like a roiling ocean and, at others, looked “pea soup” fog rolling into port. It was heavy, almost opaque at times, and indicative of the sort of brute horsepower the new age drift cars have as well as the incredible driving talent behind the wheel that this phenomena has spawned.
All of the MPG members on hand had great time, and a number indicated that they’d be back to run their own car “against the lights” on the Drag Strip. (We didn’t hear that anyone would be back to drift their Tesla or Singer Porsche, however.)
Here’s a deal: If you’re an MPG member who missed this night at the drags, contact Doug Stokes (before Thursday-raceday, please). He’ll set up passes for you and a guest. Please note that Formula Drift cars are only on track one Thursday night per month, so, if you want to see both disciplines at the same time … “check your local listings.”