Lukey Goes for a Ride

By Jim Luikens

Being a motorsports journalist offers many special opportunities. What other profession allows you to spend the weekend reporting on your favorite sport shoehorned into a windowless room that serves as a sauna the other 51 weeks of the year? Or be the last to return to your car, which is parked in the furthest parking lot, only to discover that it was in the line of fire of two inebriated fans that were practicing for next week’s mud bogs as they left the track.

However, occasionally a perk comes your way that makes the long hours a little more palatable. Such was the case recently when your humble reporter, Jim Luikens aka Lukey, had the chance to go for a ride in the two-seat dragster from the Edmond Richardson School of Drag Racing. I didn’t have to think about it too long when the offer was extended.

Previously I have had the chance to go for a ride in the two-seat program offered by CART 101, the Champ (Indy) Car folks. That ride took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of the most beautiful motorsports complexes anywhere. I thought it would be interesting to see how the two experiences compared. In a nutshell, there is no comparison!

While CART 101 (now called Driving 101) is all about speed, it is a speed that is built up over a period of three laps. The fastest speed recorded during my laps was 175.49 miles per hour, which is attested to by the great looking certificate on my office wall. By comparison Edmond’s two-seat dragster (which only runs to the 1/8th mile mark for safety and insurance reasons) records a 1/8th mile run of roughly 5.25 seconds at 130 miles per hour.

I say roughly because we never did find the ET booth in order to get the specific time slip for our run. The engine in the two-seat dragster is a 540 CID big block Chevrolet and it is not run to the ragged edge in order to insure reliability and lower maintenance costs so the dragster’s time and speed is consistent. As a result it turns roughly the same time, all the time.

At CART 101 they also use a Chevrolet engine, but it is a small block hooked to a two speed Brinn circle track transmission. However the car is configured to make it appear like it’s running a full-bore turbocharged CART racing engine hooked to a rear transaxle.

You start your CART ride by “peeling” out of the pit box just like you’ve seen on TV after a pit stop in a real race. At the end of pit road the CART 101 driver shifts into high gear as you enter the track. Basically it takes one full lap to build up speed and then you have your flying lap. Your third lap is your cool down lap and you come back into the pits at the conclusion of it.

While there is no doubt you are going fast, the sense of speed on the straight-aways is not overwhelming. What are memorable are the corners. The driver never lifts approaching the corner and each time you wonder how you are going to make it through the corner at that speed. There are four corners per lap so you get to experience this sensation four times per lap.

The corners were my favorite part of CART 101. The fact that they had to stop halfway through my ride group and change the right rear tire told me that we were experiencing the real thing and not just riding around. By comparison the dragster ride was all about the launch.

The two-seat dragster appears to be a normal Quick Rod (or Super Comp in that other series) dragster with room for an extra passenger right behind the driver. It is powered by the aforementioned 540 Chevrolet engine hooked to a two speed TCI Powerglide. It uses one 850 cfm Holley carb with no nitrous assist.

The driver, Chris Hollingsworth, is 21 and he’s from Springfield Tennessee. He tells me that that he’s been racing for four years and that he’s been driving this car since the program began at the start of this season. He says that of all the people he’s had in the car this year there hasn’t been anyone that didn’t like it.

I asked Chris if he has any special instructions and he says simply, “lean back.” We begin by suiting up in a regulation three-layer Simpson suit. We both wear full-face helmets, a neck brace, arm restraints, Simpson gloves and a five-point harness. It’s a snug fit but I slide right in and we’re ready to go. But first Chris’ helpers belt me into a five point Simpson harness. Right away I am amazed at what little movement is possible once you are completely belted in.

Luckily I only have to ride along. I can’t imagine having to actually drive the car while you are cinched in like this. But first we have to wait. They are scraping the track between rounds and we get to sit in the sun for fifteen minutes while that is completed. Of course we are fully suited and it gets extremely warm. One of Chris’ crew members comes over to tell me that the car is gonna hook extra good now on the clean track.

There is not much to do while we wait besides sweat. Seated directly behind Chris I get to read the disclaimer decal on the back of his helmet. Simpson has put it there and it basically says that in case of trouble this item is not guaranteed to do anything. Of course it takes a lot more words to say it in legalese but I get the idea.

The only other thing to read is a piece of racer tape that some jokester has placed on the roll bar upright directly in front of me. It says “wreks log” (sic) followed by a string of hash marks. As a journalist I can forgive bad driving. Bad spelling however, is a whole ‘nother thing.

Finally they’re ready for us. Only fifteen minutes into my career and I have already experienced the equivalent of a Top Fuel oil down. We’re motioned forward until we’re positioned perfectly in the burnout box. Revelation number one quickly appears. A burnout, which appears to be a symphony of beauty and motion from the outside, feels nothing like it looks. Inside the car it feels like the tires are trying to trip over themselves as the car lurches forward.

Later, I ask Chris if that is how a burnout always feels and he says yes. Who knew? After carefully staging, the tree countdowns. Basically that is the last thing I saw as my head is flung rearward. I thought I had braced my self sufficiently but I guess not. All I got was a great view of the cloudless sky for the duration of our run.

Lowering my sight against the G forces was futile. I attempted to look down the track but was pinned to the back of the seat with my eyes glued to the sky until Chris lifted at the end of the run. Because we only ran to the 1/8th mile mark Chris was able to stop without a parachute so I didn’t get to experience the negative G forces of a parachute deployment. I’m sure they must be equally impressive.

Did I like it? You bet! Would I go again? A double you bet! In fact that would be my advice for any one considering this ride. Edmond has a special price for a two ride package and that is what I would recommend. You really need one ride to prepare you for what is going to happen and another to experience it. I know I would have been better prepared the second time.

You can find Edmond, Chris and their helpers at every IHRA national event. They run the Edmond Richardson School of Drag Racing just after each event and offer a variety of 2-day and 3-day programs including one where you can bring your own car. They also have a Jr. Dragster program where you can use your car or theirs. Full details can be found on their web site, or you can call 615-643-3555 for more information.

Special thanks to Edmond and Chris from the Edmond Richardson School of Drag Racing and Bill Bader and Travis Reynolds from the IHRA for making this opportunity and story possible. It was a great experience and I’ll always remember it. Earlier this year the All Star Sprint Car Series was going to take me for a ride in their two-seat sprint car. Unfortunately their program got rained out that evening and my ride was washed out right along with it. This was an excellent alternative.