When sport compact drag racing first started gaining in popularity in the early 2000s, propelled by the success of the film The Fast and the Furious and the Japanese tuning culture, drag racing as a whole was slow to move. The cars were sectioned off instead of embraced.
Looking back now, that was a mistake. We could have the insanely popular turbocharged 2JZ cars mixing it right up in Pro Mod, given the right ruleset. Such opportunity might have attracted the attention of manufacturers to use new technology in a professional drag racing class.
Pro Stock could have done the same and potentially saved itself from its current decline, perhaps by adopting a ruleset that allowed turbocharged four cylinders and rotaries to compete on a heads up basis. Instead the category lost favour with manufacturers and spectators alike.
I believe you need one of two things to be attractive to spectators. The first is shock and awe: this is what nitro cars achieve. The second is to be relatable, which is why shows like Street Outlaws exist. Sport compact drag racing attracted a young and excited fan base that the sport largely missed out on converting into the professional ranks. The stars of sport compact drag racing should have been in our pro categories in force by now, but the sport did not adopt them and their enthusiasm has been redirected into events where they are rewarded.
The shift towards electric by car manufacturers is happening right now. This is an even more radical shift than the one towards small capacity motors that we missed. The sport has to be strategizing on how to best incorporate this new era into the sport as a whole.
At the Performance Racing Industry show there was an electric Junior Dragster on display. A great idea for getting tomorrow’s drag racers at the forefront of technology and the new age of hot rodding – which could well be electric. By getting young racers started in electric Junior Dragsters they will be familiar with the technology and look to upscale when they reach the age limit.
The technology behind electric cars is evolving extremely quickly, with improvements in batteries especially driving the industry. In another ten years I think we will be seeing far more bracket cars using electric, if they are allowed, as well as a push for the first five second run on electric power. The current record for a dragster stands at 7.27/185mph, set by Don Garlits in 2014 – and well overdue for someone to take on.
Tesla now has a 762 horsepower mode on its factory sedans, I really wonder what their engineers could achieve if given a rail chassis. The Tesla Model S P100D with their most recent ‘Ludicrous’ update is now the world’s second quickest production car to 60mph, and easily the quickest sedan.
What’s more, it costs $135,000 from the factory and you can order one today. The quickest car on the list is the Porsche 918 Spyder, which sets you back $845,000 and was limited to a run of 918 cars. Oh, and it’s a hybrid.
Chevrolet is even dipping into the electric idea with a concept called the eCOPO Camaro. It uses the standard COPO Camaro set up of rear wheel drive with drag racing tyres (the Tesla is four wheel drive) and is currently knocking on the door of nine second runs.
The primary reason I hear for ignoring the coming age of electric motors is because of the lack of sensory stimulation, and that’s true. They’re quiet, they don’t give off fumes and they don’t shake a car anything like a high horsepower internal combustion motor. But I don’t foresee electric being a replacement for Top Fuel. Instead I see them becoming more and more a part of sportsman drag racing and junior drag racing. And when was the last time you saw a packed grandstand for a sportsman meet anyway?
Truth is, if people want to race with these motors, let them. Find a place for them and make them a part of the drag racing world. You don’t have to stop racing internal combustion because someone else is racing electric, just like we didn’t have to give up V8s when sports compact arrived on the scene. Instead we found places for both. United we stand as a sport.