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No one cares that drag racing is dead

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Of course I did not close down Atco dragway, but the timing is interesting, so let’s find out what happened to drag racing.

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Question

Mike, you managed to close down Atco! But this isn’t the first time I’m hearing of a race track closing. How come drag racing is dying? Do you think it’s another reason car culture is in decline?

– Jeff

Answer

Jeff, and many others, messaged me in regards to Atco. Perhaps I simply pointed out the obvious – Atco was old and outdated.

I’m not indifferent about Atco or drag racing in general – I grew up a mile from Englishtown’s Raceway Park and raced there when I was young. In fact, I bet anyone in the tri-state area remembers the commercials (RACEWAY PARK!!).

But Raceway Park is long gone (most of it) – so what’s the issue? Us. And them.

It’s old, and so are many people that like it

Englishtown
Many tracks are in a state of disrepair.

The culture of drag racing started around muscle cars – basically things that could not turn very well, if at all. It began in the 1940s, where returning World War Two vets used old air fields no longer in use. By the 60s, the NHRA was around, and the sport became popular with the younger crowd.

If I was writing this in 1965, we’d be having a very different conversation, but by now I don’t need to tell you how different the world is. I’d go in 2003 and be annoyed at the commentators who always dismissed a growing import scene with “Here’s a built Camaro that will smoke this Civic…” No shit – the Camaro cost $100,000 built back then.

drag racing
I think this ran in the mid 8s, just a second faster than an M3 with leather and air conditioning.

And now? The Bee Bop crowd is diminishing. Even at Atco 20 years later, it’s the same announcers with the same story – “Watch this non-street legal muscle car run 8s!”

Only now those imports aren’t lagging behind, and after they run 9s, they can pick up the food shopping. I’m sure you can find a few, but I’ve never really gotten respect from that vintage crowd.

Good riddance.

Cars are different (and better)

Kia EV 6 GT
This car runs the quarter mile in 11.5. Then, it’ll go home and pick up the kids without making a peep.

If you happen to like taking your car drag racing, I won’t disparage you. How you enjoy your car is up to you, no judgement here.

But like Tim Robinson says, you sure about that? I can take my M3 to TySpeed, and a week later have it reliably run what, 10s? That’s fun, for about three pulls. Plus, I’ll have ruined the car’s street comfort because I need Ah-nuld’s thighs to press the clutch in.

An M3 Competition is even better with its all-wheel drive.

With M cars now well into the 500-horsepower and above range, are you even getting everything out of the car in just a quarter-mile? Things are just starting to get exciting as you cross the line.

BMW M3
Have 500 horsepower, Will race.

Then, electric cars. A Tesla Model S Plaid runs the quarter mile time in 8.7 seconds. 8.7 seconds. Out of the box. Street legal. Comfortable. Whatever you brought, it won’t matter.

All of this is moot because these cars can turn. Left and right. They are balanced. Which means you can forget Atco and take it to NJ Motorsports Park.

Track time

Nissan Z
E-Town is now host to drifting events.

Ten seconds of heaven vs 20 minutes of focus, concentration and maximum effort. There’s simply no comparison.

Once the launch in a drag race is complete, you just sort of wait for the finish line to arrive. But to drive a car on a track takes real effort and skill. I would bet that my mostly stock M3 could beat any ten-second car around a track if that driver is just a drag racer. Imagine arriving to the finish line 5 seconds behind on a road course – that’s an eternity.

I think most of you know this, which is why drag ways are closing left and uh, right. But HPDE events are more popular than ever.

Street. Not legal.

Driving
Cruises and even racing on public streets has taken over.

I think we can also blame Fast and Furious. No, really. That movie featured a ton of drag racing everywhere but a real race track.

We grew up idolizing movies like that, and now the younger generation has takeovers and races on public streets. It’s simply not cool to do it at a track. Nor is it Instagram-worthy. And hey, public streets are free.

I’m not condoning it, simply providing it as another reason.

Closing time

Corvette
Tracks are empty now.

The last part of this is easy – they don’t make money. The owners would rather sell the property and turn it into homes, or a giant parking lot.

If you check out this article, you’ll see a mostly propaganda piece that says the sport is alive and well with over 400 strips nationwide still open. But that’s because many of the tracks are built in undesirable locations, so no one is offering to buy the land.

But what I saw at Atco a few weeks ago was a dying track that was without upkeep, because it involved a sport many have forgotten. If you’re one of them, my sympathies. For the rest of us, that left turn is coming up fast.

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