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An insider's guide to NHRA Powerade Series venues


The UK's Andy Bissett works as Team Leader/Clutch Technician on Ashley Force's Castrol GTX-sponsored Fuel Funny Car. Having visited every track on the NHRA Tour on several occasions Andy has offered his insider's view of each venue to help Eurodragster.com readers who may be considering attending an NHRA event in 2008.


Pomona

There is always a special buzz amongst the crews at this race because it is either the first race of the season and everyone is still excited or it's the last one of the year and they are only days away from a well earned break. The weather never gets too hot, the track is always awesome and interesting things tend to happen here. If you like your excitement manufactured then the Championship conclusions at the Finals are perfect for you. There is a ton of stuff to do in LA of course but a go on the dragsters on rails at Speedzone with a couple of mates is always a good laugh and Johnny Carino's in West Covina has excellent Italian food. Plus there's always Disneyland...

Phoenix

Having this race early in the year is a great idea because it avoids the blistering desert summer heat in Phoenix which keeps the track tight and the ETs down. The groove is really narrow here, especially in the right lane where it also drifts towards the centre line so if you like to see the blocks fly, this is the place for you. The facility is sadly a bit of a dump and the Pro pits are very cramped but there is an excellent Hooters one exit down the interstate in Chandler where most of the crews can be found in the evenings. Typically the Pro teams will test for two days after the National event here so you may get to see some extra runs for free if you stick around. The nearby Desert Botanical Gardens are well worth a visit.

Gainesville

NHRA have made a lot of imProvements to this place over the last few years and this is always one of the most popular races amongst the teams. The first 300 mph nitro pass was made right here because in March the temperature is not too high and the notorious Florida humidity is still a couple of months away. This was also the site of my first ever National event win and round win in fuel funny car so I'm always going to like Gainesville. The only downsides to coming to this event are that if it rains (which is not unusual) then the parking fields get really muddy and traffic into the track is really bad on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The fabulous Gainesville Ale House is where everyone in the NHRA world (except Mike Edwards) can be found in the evenings.

Houston

A lot of people ask me what my least favourite track is and I normally say Houston. The place is really not that bad though. I've just never had much luck on any car I've worked on that ran here and have had to spend way too much time with the brake clean and the fag lighter killing off fire ants so I am kind of biased. A lot of good runs happen in Houston including the 2007 Run of the Year (according to National Dragster) Bill Reichert's phenomenal 5.103 at 284 in his A/FD. The local area is pretty sketchy in places so choose your hotel carefully and take your gun. Not much in the way of good found around either (maybe that's why I don't like the place?) so we normally eat in the Outback steak house just along Interstate 10 from the track.

Las Vegas

Sin City! A superb facility just fifteen minutes from The Strip. The racing always seems good here and in October the Championships are on the line too as well as the Top Fuel shootout. The 2000 feet of altitude has less effect than you might imagine because there is so little water in the air so this is also a popular venue for post race testing. The temporary stands on the right hand side of the track that they put up for the National events have no shade at all so you can end up feeling like you're being slowly cooked on a sunny day. There are so many things to do in Vegas that this would be like a PMR news item if I listed them all but the Hoover Dam tour is worth the trip. Beer lovers should try the Sin City Brewery in the Planet Hollywood casino.

Atlanta

NHRA have spent a lot of money over the last few years imProving the various facilities on the National event tour that they actually own themselves except, it would seem, for Atlanta. This place is not a great venue for spectators yet it typically Provides a good racing surface and an entertaining show. The ground level actually rises three feet behind the wall on the right side of the track so the stands there do Provide a great view which may make up for the crappy seats and parking. Listen to the voice of experience here though: IT IS ILLEGAL TO SELL BEER IN THIS COUNTY ON SUNDAYS. So there is no beer at the track on Sunday or in any of the local bars or off licences. Up to and including Saturday night you can find most crew guys in the Applebee's in Commerce and on Sunday night they are all in their hotel rooms smugly drinking the case of beer they wisely bought the night before being "in the know" and all...

St Louis

If I could find one word to sum up this event it would be "average". There's nothing really bad about this race, but there's just nothing really special about it either. The weather can be very hot and sweaty, the facilities are pretty, well, average and so are the performances. Also be prepared to pay $20 a day to park in a field that's a long walk from the track. It's not all bad though because the barbecue nachos at the track are the best junk food in the world. Don't bother with the Big Foot museum because it is rubbish. Take a trip up the St Louis arch if you want to play tourist and if you like Mexican food, join the rest of us for a bite at Zapata's in Collinsville.

Bristol

Thunder Valley. My favourite track on the tour. The place is between the mountains so every run and warm up echoes back to the track. The facility is impeccable and all the truck drivers get free doughnuts and drinks when they arrive which totally won me over. After last year's Problems with the racing surface were fixed it was in excellent condition so in 2008 we should be able to race in the spring as scheduled and the weather should be much cooler. No Alcohol cars run here sadly but it is still an awesome event and even if you don't like roundy-roundy racing you can't fail to be impressed just by the sight of the legendary Bristol Motor Speedway next door (Bet I can fail - Ed).

Topeka

The city of Topeka actually owns this track and the National event is the biggest thing to happen in town all year. It's neat to pick up the paper at your hotel room door and see your own car on the front. A huge amount of money was poured in to the facility a couple of years ago and it is first class. The scales are even indoors! There is a road course and dirt track here too which means the place is kind of spread out so plan on a lot of walking. If it gets hot here it gets brutally hot because of the humidity but otherwise I love this place. The Timberline in South Topeka has great food but O'Dooleys Irish pub has great food as well as great beer so I'll see you there instead.

Chicago

This is just an awesome race track. For spectators this has to be the best venue on the tour. The seats are so steep no one ever stands up and the horseshoe style seating really adds to the drama and offers some unique views so getting a reserved seat in one of the really good spots is definitely worthwhile. If that wasn't enough the racing surface is also excellent so when it's cool you'll see record numbers and low bump spots. There is also the Jegs All-stars competition on Saturday which is a unique opportunity to see all the best Sportsman racers from all over the US in the same place at once. The teams tend to stay all over the local area but lots of them can be found on board the Empress casino in the evenings.

Englishtown

I'm always relieved just to get here just because it means I got the truck through the New Jersey traffic unscathed. The age of the place definitely shows but the racing here is always excellent with strong fields and close racing. This is one of the best events in the TA/FC class with so many of the big hitters coming from this area. Traffic can be a nightmare because there is only one road in and out but you can always stop at the Race Track Deli on the way in for a "belly buster" if you can manage to order one from the crazy Polish lady behind the counter. The Stuff Yer Face Café in New Brunswick is simply fantastic and the Knight Club along the street sells Jack and Coke by the pint for $4.

Norwalk

John Force Racing has match raced here on July 4th weekend for years but now the NHRA tour comes along too. The recent upgrades by the Bader family have made this a truly great facility and the fireworks show on Friday night is unbelievable. Norwalk Raceway is famous for the dollar a bowl ice cream and rightly so and also draws huge crowds so get your tickets well in advance if you want reserved seats. Hotels in Norwalk are hard to get a room in because the racers tend to get there first but Sandusky is not far away where there are loads of rooms because of nearby Cedar Point amusement park. That place makes Alton Towers look like a church fete and is well worth a visit. The Raptor and Millennium Force and great rides and Top Thrill Dragster is twelve seconds of madness that shouldn't be missed.

Denver

This track is over a mile above sea level which makes for an unusual event. You won't see any records set here but you will see more explosions than normal and the sand trap gets frequent use because parachutes are less effective in the thin air. The track and pits hang on the side of a mountain but climbing that mountain is not a good idea because there are poisonous snakes in the grass. Be warned also; hot weather, alcohol and the high altitude can easily get the better of you so drink plenty of water at the races and save your beer money for the excellent selection in Old Chicago in Lakewood with all the crews instead. Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in the US so this is event is also a good starting point for a holiday.

Seattle

You never know what to expect here when it comes to the weather. In the last three years we've had freezing cold, boiling hot and lots of rain. The new track owners are working hard to imrove the place which it desperately needs. All the Sportsman cars in Comp and below are pitted all around the road course so to see them all takes a lot of walking. When the conditions are good you get a lot of good runs in the night sessions but the track sometimes becomes a one-laner in the sunshine. Best food and drink in the area is at the Longhorn Barbecue in Auburn where the duelling pianos in the bar are fun, if really loud, especially when the guy that looks like John Malkovich is playing.

Sonoma

This is a Bruton Smith track so it's nice once you get inside but if you stay somewhere east of the site the traffic coming in down Highway 37 can be horrendous so I advise staying west of the track if you can. The place is almost at sea level so you will see good runs here even when it is warm, which it usually is. Last year all the fans were mad because there were no general admission seats and fans had to pay $10 extra just to sit in the stands which went over like a fart in a space suit. The temporary stands suck and the permanent stand is long ways back from the track so do get reserved seats but choose carefully. For wine lovers there are lots of great vineyards all around the track and San Francisco is less than an hour away which is a great city to visit.

Brainerd

This place is really spread out, the spectators are easily the biggest drinkers on the tour and there are trees everywhere which makes this place seem kind of weird. The track can be a little tricky and most of the teams just want to get the day's racing finished so they can go to "The Zoo" or campgrounds as they are officially known. Over half the fans come for the whole weekend and set up camp surrounded by the banners they stole last year and lots and lots of beer. It's really a lot of fun and crew guys get treated like heroes when they go for a stroll in there which is fun. This wouldn't be a good location for your first NHRA event because the racing isn't all that good but if you've already been to a few and want to try something really different then just stop at the offy on the way in and sleep in the car. Words cannot express how wonderful the Westside Liquor store is just before you reach the track. In the evening most of the crews can be found in, well, the Zoo of course!

Reading

The beautiful forest setting makes this a really pretty track but also make it by far the hardest track on the tour to get a truck into and the one that has Probably the worst traffic jams too. Over the last few years this race has been plagued by heavy rain but when the track is actually dry it complements the oxygen rich air and yields really good numbers. 2008 is rumoured to be the last year the Powerade tour will visit this track so this may be your last chance. There are no hotels near the track so most people stay in Reading which is about twenty minutes away. For beer and scenery lovers a trip to the Third And Spruce Café in Reading is highly recommended.

Indianapolis

Everyone should take in the Big Go at least once in their lives. The facility is nothing fancy but the sense of history and the sheer scale of this event make it something truly special. It goes on forever but a lot of the teams are based in nearby Brownsburg so there are usually some shop tours to go on in the evenings and die cast fans will love the Gear Heads store right by the main entrance to the track. Most of the after dark fun takes place in the camp grounds that surround the track or at Brickers Pub in Brownsburg. The museum at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is well worth a trip and the best beer in town can be found at the Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Indy.

Dallas

The legendary first super track is still a great place to go race and the autumn date combined with the all concrete quarter mile Produce lots of stout laps. The Alcohol racing here is always good too as all the big hitters from Division 4 are out in force and lots of other teams from further away tend to hit this event. Monday testing is popular here with most of the teams with the championship races coming into focus. There is great Mexican food to be had at Don Jose's on the way from the track to Ennis where most people stay. The draught Shiner Bock in Chilis in Ennis is excellent beer lovers. Single guys be warned though; by some medical miracle all girls in Ennis are born already divorced with two kids and are looking for someone to latch on to and take them away from the place...

Memphis

Just getting to this track is a relief for all of us rig drivers because the only way in with a truck involves crossing a bridge with a four ton weight limit. This is in fact a surprisingly small facility and some of the Sportsman pits are quite a long way from the track. However the racing tends to be good if it doesn't get too hot and the Championship battles add an extra drama. The murals on the toilets behind the stands on the right side of the track are well worth a look and again look out for some Monday testing. Obviously Memphis is the home all kinds of terrible music if you're into that kind of thing and would like to play tourist. Most of the teams stay quite a long way from the track because the local area is, well, a bit of a sh*thole.

Richmond

This is another race that has a history of rain Problems but on a cool, dry day in Richmond everyone goes fast, at least to half track. The second half of the track is known for being a little loose for the nitro cars but it gets better and better every year. If you are a Pro Stock fan (oh come on now, we all were before Greg Anderson came along and Diamond P still made the videos) you will love this place. Frank Manzo and Ken Perry tore up the Alcohol record books here in 2006 so badly they weren't allowed to come back. Being close to the end of the year this is always going to be a crucial race for the season title hunters and it is generally a small, but interesting event. For history buffs there are lots of colonial towns nearby to visit in your time away from the track. Accommodation is spread all over but racers tend to congregate in the Hooters in Chester which is not one of the better ones it has to be said but it is a Hooters anyway.

TBA

We have an extra race this year at a venue yet to be decided but it will Probably be in Charlotte if the new track is done in time. That track is being built by Bruton Smith (owner of the Vegas, Bristol and Sonoma venues) who claims it will be the best drag strip in the world and if anyone can build it, it is him. If the track is not ready in time it sounds like we'll be going to Gainesville twice this year instead in which case the owner of the Gainesville Ale House will be able to afford his yacht a year early.


Feature ©Andy Bissett and Eurodragster.com.



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