Drag racing seems a pretty straight forward sport to most people who have never done it. Once the green light comes on you mash your foot on the gas and go as fast as you can until you pass the finish line, then you stomp on the brakes. What's the big deal?
But there is more to drag racing than just banging the loud pedal and hanging on to the end of the quarter mile. On an average bracket race, for example, you'll have to make sure you cut the light correctly, make sure the wheels aren't spinning you out of control, point the car the right direction, shift gears, and you have to make sure you don't break out of your "dial-in." This last item may take a bit of strategic braking at the end of the strip.
Drag racing is a sport measured only in seconds. If your car is capable of running in the 11s, you will use an entire day's worth or practice runs to get a minute's worth of racing. Experience is paramount in drag racing, yet it's difficult to accumulate the time behind the wheel to become genuinely accustomed to all the things that can happen in a drag racing car.
There is, however, a way to shorten the learning curve. Go back to school.
Although there are several schools in the country, by far the best two are Roy Hill's Drag Racing School in Rockingham, NC and Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School in Gainesville, FL.
Both will accept either true neophytes or experienced pros and have shown consistent results with each group. They teach skills that create better reaction times as well as more cognizance of the entire process.
"One of the keys in drag racing is in concentration," Hill said. "Say you've been out racing three to five years, you've had some success and you want to take it to a higher level. Or say you've never done it. If I have someone who's never done it, it's easier to teach them the right way to start. If a person has done it for a number of years, they've gotten some bad habits. So we take them and give them a push in the right direction."
Frank Hawley explained, "We've spent time with drivers who have won more national events than I ever won and we work with them in a very sophisticated level. We work with them with sports psychology. We have some very advanced equipment to train with in terms of timing. By the same token, we are also equipped to take someone who's never seen a drag race to try it out in a very safe environment and experience it."
Each school has several different facilities. Hill's school is primarily based in Rockingham, NC, but he also has dates in five other sites around the country. Hawley has just moved his base from Gainesville to Pomona California (which will be a second hub), to compliment his instruction at three other cities.
Students discover what happens in a race car at speed. They learn about control, physical dynamics, and mostly about the speed and power that is drag racing. In Hawley's Alcohol Dragster Course one of the goals for new students is to simply be able to keep the throttle all the way down during a pass. You do that, they say, and you're on the right track.
Hill's three-day courses run $1,950 for your choice of Super Gas, Super Comp and Bracket Racing, or you can have training in Pro Stock and Pro Modified. They also work with professionals in Top Fuel cars. Hawley's instruction starts at $450 and goes as high as around $3,900.
But it isn't any more expensive that putting a new manifold on your car -- that, in a sport where you don't need to improve your car. You do, however, need to improve yourself, which you'll do with instruction.