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Summit Racing's Night Under Fire

Killer drag racing in Norwalk, Ohio

By Jon Asher, Photography by John Asher

During the last decade, drag racing has undergone more dramatic changes than at any other time in its storied history. National events run the gamut of the highly polished and professional NHRA Full Throttle series to the rather difficult-to-comprehend IHRA Nitro Jam affairs and more. In between are a myriad of events and organizations featuring everything from bought-in Pro Modifieds to serious, street-legal drags of mammoth proportions and marathon bracket races that no one ever hears about, but which pay out staggering sums to the lucky winners.

Sadly, missing from many of these events is the fun factor that once attracted all of us to the quarter-mile sport (you remember when they raced a full quarter-mile, don’t you?). If you’re old enough to remember the outrageous match races of the ’60s and early ’70s, you know what we’re talking about. If you weren’t there to see it for yourself, pull up a chair while we tell you about what may be the largest single-day event in drag racing, an event that harkens back to the good old days while also offering up the most modern of equipment and superstars to entice even the most jaded of fans.

The Night Under Fire (NUF) at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, celebrated its 34th anniversary last summer with backing from Auto-Plus and an estimated 30,000 fans that came out to join the party, this in the face of a dire weather forecast that fortunately never came true. The difference between the Night Under Fire and other “races” is significant, and we put the word races in quotation marks on purpose. If anything, the NUF isn’t about racing. It’s about putting on a show. While the participants want to win, more than anything else they want to win the hearts and minds of the fans, and in that area they succeeded beyond their wildest collective imaginations.

The “Fun Factor” is off the charts at the NUF, and it’s all the ingredients in the show that put it there. You want Funny Cars? We got ’em—from John Force and teammate Robert Hight to colorful, independent Jim Head and the DHL Toyota driven by Jeff Arend. Too “new” for your taste? How about an eight-pack of historical floppers, including three-time IHRA World champion Dale Pulde’s War Eagle, the renowned Blue Max Mustang, Jon Capps at the controls of one of the Jungle Jim Camaros, and more. Let’s not forget Larry “Spiderman” McBride’s sickening (that’s how we’d feel if we had to ride it!) Top Fuel motorcycle and a front-motor dragster or two. Now throw in eight Pro Mods, eight period-correct Gassers, and, well, is that enough? Of course it isn’t! After all, what would a Night Under Fire be without that fire, so let’s toss in four jet dragsters, a couple of wheelstanders, and Bob Motz’s earth-shaking Kenworth jet truck. Not to worry, we haven’t forgotten the fireworks.

The NUF attracts a huge number of regional bracket racers, so many in fact that class calls during the afternoon were by even and odd numbered entries in each bracket. That was the only way to avoid overflowing the staging lanes. After mid-afternoon, the bracket runners didn’t get another shot at the Tree until after midnight—and there wasn’t a single complaint. Those racers were also there for the show, and just happened to be racing themselves. They’d end up finishing their eliminations some time on Sunday afternoon. They also got the SMP treatment when the staff hustled up a free breakfast for every racer some time before the sun even topped the horizon Sunday morning. That’s just the way it is at SMP.

By Jon Asher
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