Ever since the first car came into being, drivers have been obsessed with speed. Their curiosity of going fast has led to generation after generation of faster cars, with better handling, better acceleration, and a much higher cap on maximum speed. But, how did this curiosity for the fastest turn into one of the most popular and beloved sports in the United States, Drag Racing?
The Birth of Drag Racing
Drag racing as you have come to know today came into being after decades of implementations and changes. And it all started in the dry lake beds of the California desert. People considered racing as a taboo throughout the early and mid 20th century. People looked down on it and greatly frowned upon the activity in general. Like many great sports and games of this generation, it all began underground.
After the 1930s, engines started getting a lot louder, a lot bigger, and a lot faster while the drivers were getting a lot more ambitious and fearless. Speeds for cars started reaching over 100MPH, and more people were getting access to cars. But it wasn’t after the Second World War that things for drag racing really kicked into gear.
After the war, some kids with nothing to do and nowhere to be had both, the worst and the best idea ever. What started as a one-time thing, slowly grew in popularity, but still stayed as an underground past time. Young adults of the 40s and 50s gathered in various disused military runways to indulge in some off the books racing. There are some sources that say the first-ever drag race to take place was in 1949.
The entire experience of pre-organized drag racing was very fresh and raw. Massive low tech machines facing off one-on-one on a short track with no barriers or guidelines, it was the start of something very special. The audience enjoyed these races the most, as there were no conventional seating arrangements hundreds of feet away from the car. Every race the audience members were often only a few feet away from cars zipping right past them in full speed.
As the 50s rolled in, soon came the time of organized drag racing.
Organized Drag Racing
As the popularity for drag racing soared greatly, it was too big to ignore. The Hot Rod Association (NHRA) came into being in 1951, and by the 60s two varied classes of the competition were developed, unmodified stock and top eliminator. The NHRA, founded by Wally Parks, soon paved the way for the sport to gain immense traction at a level never seen before.
With the sport growing racing, superstars emerged, and with them their cars of choice. Every racing fanatic wanted to be the next Leonard Harris or Dode Martin. And almost everyone wanted to ride their cars the Albertson Olds and the Dragmaster Dart, two of the best drag race cars of their time. There were not only fans who were swooning over these cars, as the Dragmaster Dart was so famous that other drivers used it as a template for their own cars.
The sixties saw more technological changes come onto the track. The traditional race starter, the person holding two flags between the cars, was replaced by an electronic lighting system. Fun fact, this was the first example of automation in sports. Moreover, the 60s also saw a drastic shift in the shape of the cars, going from wide and small to thin and long. During this time the World Series of Drag Racing also came into being as one of the many organizations for the sport.
The Involvement of Major Businesses
Till the 60s, no major car manufacturing company or otherwise started investing in drag racing. But with the turn of the decade, major car companies like Ford and Chrysler not only invested in the sort itself but got into a rivalry of sorts.
The companies battled it out to see who get the better car out, each car radically different from the other in terms of design and shape. Some companies also started making "funny cars" which were cars without doors. To enter drivers would have to lift the car and make their way inside. Ironically despite its name, the car was quite effective in drag racing, and many people preferred it to the other cars of the time.
Thanks to the involvement of major businesses, like that of Ford and Chrysler, competition in the drag sports scene was rampant, and people were trying to outdo the other. This lead to what many call the drag race renaissance in the 70s, where various companies were manufacturing cars great for drag racing. And after a serious accident, many changes took place that became staples of the genre.
The Major Accident
A racer by the name Don Garlit found himself in the scariest of predicaments. His front motor dragster suffered from a transmission explosion which cut the car in between. The accident was severe and cost the racer his right foot. Although he survived, he vowed to make a racecar as powerful as the ones here but with an engine at the back. Not only did he succeed in making the car, but the car was also able to win a championship surprising everyone.
Fast forward to two years later, and almost every major car manufacturer was now making cars with engines behind the driver.
The Drag Race Renaissance
The drag race renaissance was during the 70s and was a time when all major car manufacturers were participating in drag races around the world, and different companies started investing in it. Teams were paid for their services, trailers were turned into mobile workshops, and the prize money got a whole lot bigger. And between then and now, not a lot has changed when it comes to the fundamentals of drag racing. Other improvements in the design of cars and their performance, not a lot has changed. And that is how drag racing has come into being today.