From flagmen to the 50th Winternationals
Hawaii Motorbeat Monthly
As I watched the 50th anniversary NHRA
Winternationals open the 2010 drag racing season on ESPN2 over the
Valentine’s Day weekend, my mind wandered back to the first
organized races I went to as a teen. In New England it was either
Sanford, Maine or the Orange Airport in Massachusetts for monthly
drags until the Connecticut Dragway debuted as the first purpose
built drag strip in the Northeast. When I got to Hawai‘i at 17 years
young, NHRA sanctioned races were held at the old Kahuku
airstrip until Hawai‘i Raceway Park opened in 1964.
All these early 50s-60's events had
one outstanding feature ~ the flagman. He was THE man. The boss. The
guy who launched the hunkering, snortin' hot rods on their blast
down the quarter mile. A good starter could load and launch dozens
of pairs of cars in a steady stream of noise and smoke. A GREAT one
could do that and give the fans a show!
With the green flag behind his back,
he'd squat and point the red one at first one driver and then the
other - waiting for the nod of acknowledgement from each. The red
flag would be slowly lowered to the ground as the engine revs came
up, a pause, and then an athletic jump and the green flag whipped to
the sky. Or dozens of variations of that theme.
Clutches were dropped, tires began
churning smoke and engines screamed to the top of first gears as
they thundered past the starter ~ who whisked them on their way like
a matador with his flags. The primal dance of drag racing.
(Just a side thought... don't know
about you, but I've never been at a street race that was started by
a cute blond in a prom dress using a pink scarf. Or flashlight, for
that matter. Guess you had to live in LA in the 50's for that one -
or in some B-Movie screenwriter’s foggy mind.)
Now electronics and the Christmas Tree
have replaced the colorful flagmen of those early days. But that's
OK, because we've certainly seen super growth of drag racing in the
last 50 years in the trade-off. From home built jalopies to
multi-million dollar teams on a pro circuit that gets national media
attention and sponsorships. For this year's NHRA Pomona season
opener we got to enjoy a two-hour Saturday evening TV recap of the
qualifying show and three hours of same-day coverage of the Sunday
finals. Five hours of drag racing programing in Hi-Def.
However, fabulous as all the TV racing
coverage is, there's just no replicating the sound, smell and
physical saturation of being at a race in person. Until your eyes
have watered from nitro, your chest has been thumped by the
concussion of a top fuel burnout and your hair clogged with rubber
from tire smoke... well, yer just watchin' TV. So, get off the couch
this year and head to the Hilo drag strip, the Maui Raceway or Kauai
track. Or plan a trip to a national event and really live the nitromethane experience.
NASCAR Notes... For the truly patient,
there was a pretty good NASCAR opener at Daytona on Feb. 14th as
well. Too bad the ol' track decided to start coming apart near the
end of 500 miles in front of a national TV audience and 200,000
fans. Fontana was better and 2010 is off n' runnin'!
But the NASCAR highlight of the new
season was Danica Patrick's calm, cool debut in the Nationwide
Series. She's gonna be fun to watch this year; and she'll bring huge
ratings to both NASCAR and Indy car series.
That's my 2¢ for March... enjoy the
rest of the fun! ~ PM
Hawaii Motorbeat Monthly
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