Before you can be a drag-racing hero, you need to learn to drive. And that is exactly what we set out to do after John Calvert invited us to drive his 2010 Cobra Jet in NHRA Division 7 competition. After geeking out a bit at the prospect of driving a fast car in a money race, we realized we might be a little rusty at the starting line, and we had zero seat time in a Super Stock Cobra Jet—or any CJ, for that matter. For that kind of experience, we turned to Roy Hill's Drag Racing school in Sophia, North Carolina, where you can drive his supercharged Cobra Jet Mustangs at the zMax Dragway in nearby Charlotte and leave with a Super Stock license of your own.
In the V6 Mustang, you will approach the track as if you were racing a faster car. Vision
As historic drag-racing figures go, Roy Hill is the guy who is always around, always involved, and always racing. As a young man in 1969, Hill got a chance to travel west with Sox and Martin, where he got a dose of public-relations experience and exposure to Stock Eliminator racing. When he returned home, he built a 1962 Dodge with a 440 engine and won the C/Stock class at Concord Dragway.
"That was probably the worst thing to happen to me," Hill says. "They offered the winner $5 or a trophy, and I took the $5. I was hooked."
Hill spent the rest of the year racing in G/Stock Automatic and D/Stock Automatic with a Hemi engine and started winning races. Along the way, he met the Pettys, Buddy Martin, and Butch Leal. It was Martin who talked Hill into looking at the then-new Pro Stock class. Hill built a 1968 Barracuda to run in Pro Stock in 1970.
In 1971, Hill traded up to a Plymouth Duster that he purchased from the Pettys for $7,500 and out-qualified them by two positions. Hill went on to win races with a 1972 Duster built by the Pettys and later driving Butch Leal's 1974 California Flash Duster, until 1982 when he decided to go match racing and met some decision-makers at Ford.
The big-tire Cobra Jet will stand on the bumper if you let it. During the class, the rev l
"There wasn't really Mercury in the class in 1982," says Hill. "So that's what I did." A year later, Hill campaigned a Pro Stock Capri with Mustang sheetmetal, then a Tempo in 1985, and a Jerry Haas Thunderbird in 1987 that won 22 national events for Hill in the IHRA. By then, Hill had gained the support from Ford, which helped him develop a team that finished high in the IHRA rankings. In 1989, Hill started a drag-racing school at Rockingham Dragway, a track he would buy in 1992. There, he ran Winston-sponsored drag racing and Roy Hill's Drag Racing School.
In 2008, Bruton Smith built zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, and in 2010, Rick Hendrick and James Finch called Hill with a new Cobra Jet. Hill took that car to Indy and won in Super Stock, allowing him to form a new five-car team. That team is based at the zMax track, where Hill currently teaches his school.
There are 10 classes offered by Roy Hill, but we were interested in the Super Stock/Cobra Jet class. If you are lucky enough to own a Cobra Jet, Hill offers a two-day class for $5,900. "It's the easiest thing for a guy to buy an 8-second car from the factory now," Hill says. "We need to tune the driver and the car. It works the same with the COPO Camaro and Dodge."
If you don't have a Cobra Jet, it's no problem. For an additional $1,000, Hill will loan you one of his.
The classes are two days. The first includes one to two hours of track orientation with diagrams of the zMax layout and a question-and-answer period. Then it's out to the cars. Hill uses V6 Mustangs to ease students into the program and get them get acquainted with the track and the starting line. There aren't any burnouts, just staging and driving. The slow cars give you time to see the timing cones, stripes, and where to exit. Hill is always watching, and if he thinks you're ready, you can move to one of the Cobra Jets.
You might have confidence going into the school, but there is no way to mentally prepare for the noise and motion of a supercharged Cobra Jet if you have never experienced one. Hill's cars are as violent as it gets. The fast one will touch the 8.70s at 160 mph, and the less fast one will run mid-10s at 130.
If you paid attention and didn't do anything dumb in the V6 Mustangs, the end of Day 1 or start of Day 2 includes suiting up and launching off the foot brake in the 10-second car. But first, you must complete the burnout.
During the burnout, you must forget what you know about street cars. Just floor it so the
The burnout is the trickiest part of drag racing to learn, and it is where more new drivers will fail to license. You must have awareness of everything that is inside and outside of the car, while wearing a cumbersome driving suit with thick gloves, boots, and a helmet. The engine is so loud it deafens your sense of hearing entirely, and everything happens fast, making each move potentially dangerous to the people around you. In this situation, you must rely on the guy standing next to the car—in this case, Roy Hill—to guide you. After gently easing the beast into the water box and stopping on command exactly where you are told, you must flip the correct switch for the two-step limiter, pump the brakes, set the line lock, and then floor it.
Hill uses the word intimidation for the relationship between the student and the Cobra Jet. Lifting, needlessly steering, and failing to keep the tires spinning for the requisite number of 5 to 7 seconds are why you fail. Trust us, spending time with your foot on the floor in one of Roy Hill's 8-second Mustangs is something you will never forget. After you release the line-lock button, glide out of the water box and stop the car. Hill will tell you what to do next. You are going to be breathing hard.
To be consistent, you need to shift at the same point during each run. That means watching
Since this is a Super Stock car, it has a C2 two-speed automatic to be class legal. The bi
Hill is strict on engine management by the drivers in his class. If you see the temperatur
The Christmas Tree
Roy Hill is on hand for each run. He personally coaches each student on where to put the c
They call the pole with signal lights to start a race the Christmas Tree because the colorful lamps resemble the symbol of Christmas. In the past, the pre-stage and stage lights were yellow bulbs, now they are blue LEDs hooked to a computer that will automatically foul a driver who does not stage 7 seconds after both pre-stage bulbs are lit and one of the two cars is staged. This prevents a driver from burning down the other car while the opponent is staged and on the limiter waiting to leave. The Tree is connected to the staging beams, and when both cars are staged, the starter will flip a switch and start the countdown to the green light. After the burnout, Hill will direct you into the groove with quick left and right corrections and stop you right before the pre-stage beam. He will flick you the OK sign through the windshield, and you are on your own.
The Staging Beams
Knowing where you are in the staging area will help you win. There are four beams total at the starting line: pre-stage, stage, guard, and lock-in. The pre-stage beam lights the top half of the LED circle on the tree, indicating to the car in the other lane and the official starter that you are ready. At zMax Dragway, the stage beam is 7 inches away from the pre-stage beam, and when both lanes have lit both halves of the circle on the Christmas Tree, the starter will activate the tree. If the eliminator uses a Pro Tree, all three amber lights will flash simultaneously, followed four-tenths later by the green. On a Sportsman Tree, the three lights will flash in sequence, five-tenths of a second apart, before the green. The reaction time has no effect on the elapsed time, but sitting at the line is called leaving late and will allow the car in the other lane to beat you to the finish line. The object of the game is getting there first.
While we were taking the class, Bob Tasca III helped us with some starting-line pointers.
At the school, professional Top Fuel drag racer Bob Tasca III was on hand to give us some advice. "Roll in and light the first beam," Tasca says. "Lightly lift off the brake to light the second, instead of lifting off the brake and hitting it again. If you lift then see the second light before you hit the brakes a second time, you are too deep."
Staging deep means more of the tire has crossed into the stage beam. Since in drag racing you leave on the third yellow, a tire at the edge of the beam is more likely to foul the car by leaving the starting line before the green. A good, repeatable, reaction time is between 0.040–0.060, meaning the car left the starting line less than six-hundredths after the green light came on. Leaving before the green light comes on turns on the red light, and you automatically lose the race—unless the guy in the other lane does it too, and worse. A red light is indicated by a negative number reaction time on the timeslip.
Shallow staging adds mph, essentially giving you a running start, but slows the overall reaction time. The driver with the lowest reaction time gets the holeshot. When two cars run the same speed and e.t., a holeshot will win the race.
Deep or shallow, you must line the car up the same way each race. "The crew chief's info must be consistent," Tasca says. "That can get you lane choice, and you win more races with lane choice."
The guard beam is there to prevent something low on the car from triggering the finish line beam before the front tire, thereby shortening the track. If the stage beam is still blocked and the guard beam is broken, you get a red light. The lock-in beam is 1 inch before the stage beam and prevents a red light if the car rocks backward after the stage beam is lit. Hill will both line you up in the groove and put the car right in front of the pre-stage beam; the rest is up to you. Know your car, know where you are in the 133⁄8 inches between the pre-stage beam and the guard beam (this will vary per track), and you will win races. Try not to bump the car into the staging beams—as always, smooth in the race car is smooth on the track. Floor it on the last yellow.
The electric eyes are in the black box. When your tire leaves the stage beam, the e.t. tim
Back off if something goes wrong. If you get out of the groove, if you lose traction, if you are headed for the wall, you are expected to lift and end the run. Leaving the line in someone else's 10-second race car will show everyone if you can handle it. A lot of guys involuntarily lift on the first pass.
To get a license, you must get a sign-off on two eighth-mile runs, two 1,000-foot runs, and two quarter-mile passes. Hill will be watching for mistakes, and it is up to him to determine your ability to drive the race car safely. "I am looking for a driver that can control himself mentally and control the car physically," says Hill. Did you listen? Are you braking correctly? Are you straight on the track? Are you doing the burnout correctly? If you look like you are capable of controlling the situation to Hill's satisfaction, he will sign off on your run.
If you get to the quarter-mile in the 10-second car safely, Hill will move you to the 8-second car so you can earn your Class 4, Type B license to drive cars that run 7.50–9.99 in the quarter-mile with less than 125 inches of wheelbase. If you get to this point, the only real difference is how hard the car leaves and how the car builds speed at the top end. If your eyes are locked on a point on the horizon and you are relaxed in the car, the additional speed will seem effortless. Do it all right, and Hill will sign the paperwork and submit it to the NHRA. The license will come later in the mail.
The 5.4L has plenty of power with the big Whipple in place to get to 8.50 and beyond. The
Push the button and the fun begins. Conservative estimates indicate more than 800 hp to mo
There are a lot of mental tricks Hill uses to get you to think about where you are. The qu