If your only experience with drag racing is watching the pivotal scene in Grease when Danny Zuko challenges Crater Face on Thunder Road, you’ve got a lot to learn.
This weekend, July 18 to 19, marks the 35th Annual Mopar Mile-High National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Nationals at Bandemere Speedway in Lakewood. This is the 14th race (out of 24) in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Although the competitive sport of drag racing was officially launched in the 50s, back when racers drove modified stock cars on a quarter-mile track, today, drivers reach speeds of over 300 miles per hour in less than four seconds on a 1,000-foot drag strip. Engines are fueled by nitromethane, which is often used as rocket fuel, instead of gasoline. Two cars race side-by-side; the winner moves on and the loser is immediately eliminated. Eventually, the top two duke it out for the title. The action is fast and furiously loud—spectators are encouraged to wear earplugs.
I had a chance to catch up with Nitro Funny Car Driver Alexis DeJoria by email, one of the many highly-ranked female drivers on the circuit, along with Britney Force and Leah Pritchett.
5280: What’s the the difference between a Top Fuel car, Funny Car, and Pro Stock car? Why do you race Funny Cars?
I race a nitro Funny Car because I think it’s the most intense, exciting race car in NHRA drag racing. Top Fuel dragsters are a little bit faster and have a longer chassis, and the Pro Stock guys shift all the way down the track and they’re all motor, but I think the volatile nitro Funny Car is the perfect fit for me and my personality.
5280: You’re going into this race ranked fifth. How important is the Denver race to you and your standing?
It’s very important for us to do well at this race; we need to get back up in points. The Funny Car standings are very tight right now, and we only have a few races left before we’re locked in and race for the Championship. All of us, from second down to seventh, are separated by only a few rounds. Even just getting past first round would help us, and a win would be very, very good for this race.
5280: A race lasts about four seconds. What are you thinking about?
Those seconds go by like minutes. In my mind, four seconds is definitely more like four minutes. After years of racing, your mind slows everything down, and it feels like an eternity when you’re in the car and going down the track. You get to a point where you can pick out every part of the run.
5280: Explain what happens to your body when you’re accelerating up to speeds over 300 miles per hour?
You can experience anywhere from 3 to 4 g’s when you accelerate and negative 5 g’s when you hit the parachute, so it’s intense pressure on your body and it’s exhausting. You’re definitely breathless after a run.
5280: How do you control a car going that fast?
I drive a short wheel base race car and the motor is in front, and yes, the whole way down the track I’m steering it constantly. Although we’re racing in a straight line, the car itself does not want to go straight, so I’m fighting to keep it in the groove and keep it going straight the whole way down.
5280: I heard that you love the outdoors and have a home in Colorado? What do you like to do in the off-season here?
I love to come out and visit Colorado. Of course, I love snowboarding, so it’s great to get out here during the off-season in the winter, but I also love when I can make it out to Colorado in the spring and summertime as well. I love to go hiking and floating down the river. In fact, I’m planning on hiking at Red Rocks tomorrow.
5280: Why do you think there are so many successful female drivers in drag racing, as opposed to IndyCar, Nascar, or Formula One?
There have been a few women in our sport that have done exceptionally well from very early on, and I think that’s what other forms of motorsports were lacking; they didn’t have women trailblazers that came into the sport back in its “early years” and have so much success.
For more on this weekend’s event schedule and to purchase tickets, click here.
—Image by Gary Nastase