You have to admit that the idea of drag-racing is pretty kooky. Why would you pay good money to go to a quarter-mile track when you can accomplish the same thing for free every time you see a traffic light turn green?
It's the time slip, silly -- the written proof that you've made your already-fast car even faster. Most men (and more than a few women) have a biological need for this activity. The act of modifying a car excites a puerile part of the brain known as the testicle cortex, or T Cortex for short. This structure controls our primal urge to tinker with-and occasionally blow up-our favorite toys.
The problem with drag-racing is that the faster you make your car, the shorter the fun lasts. Eleven seconds of yee-haw makes for a pretty lousy evening -- just ask your first girlfriend. The solution is to make the whole thing bigger. (The drag strip, that is.)
The Texas Mile's track is four times the length of most drag strips, so logic dictates that it must be four times as stimulating to the T Cortex. According to both Newtonian physics and Murphian logic, the additional length results in a sixteen-fold increase in the likelihood of missed shifts, mechanical malaise, and, of course, the single most compelling reason to watch any motorized sporting event, at least according to George Carlin: the potential for graphic carnage. Especially for those who modify their cars to the point of meltdown.
Our original plan was to show up at the Texas Mile in something slow and nondescript, stay out of harm's way, and watch a bunch of rednecks do sick burnouts and blow stuff up. But then, troublemaking technical editor Don Sherman hatched the (both patriotic and T Cortex-fueled) plan to see if he could beat a Ferrari 458 Italia with an all-American Chevy Corvette ZR1 deep in the heart of Texas.
So here I am, behind the wheel of a 562-hp Maranello missile, staring nauseously at the mile and a half of pavement stretched out in front of me. I'm about to exhale my breakfast burrito at the thought of driving down this runway 35 mph faster than my United Express regional jet was flying when it touched down in San Antonio.
Also, everyone's staring at me. Color me self-conscious, but there aren't enough Garth Brooks songs on an iPod (oh, and I played them all-loud) to hide the fact that I ain't from around these parts. That's exactly what the police officer told me last night when he yanked a Rosco P. Coltrane U-turn at the sight of the Ferrari's New Jersey license plates and pulled me over for doing 35 mph in a 35 zone. So now I worry: Will the spectators beat me up if I'm slow? What if I get distracted by some shiny object and forget to hit the brakes at the end of the track? Oh, look, there's an RC Cola can blowing down the runway. Concentrate! Oh, the pressure!
Thankfully, the Ferrari suffers from no stage fright, so when it's time to go, the 458's computer spins the engine to four grand, dumps the clutch, and performs a flawless launch. Electronics control the wheel spin, the power output, and the gearchanges; my only job is to keep the pedal on the floor and the car pointed in a straight line.
It's amazing how a g or so of acceleration will rid your mind of anxiety. The flat-crank V-8 behind me is caterwauling with the timbre and intensity of a gaggle of chain-smoking old ladies being chased through their trailer park by a zombie.
Relax, I think to myself, this is an Italian supercar, not a creaky econobox bowingunder the force of an engine producing four times the power it was designed to. It was built to easily tolerate whatever speed it'll reach in a mile; the fireball forecast is slim, and there's practically zero chance of a smoldering connecting rod flying through the radio faceplate.
Shift after instantaneous, brutal shift, the Ferrari hurls itself down the bumpy track, and the faster it goes, the more I relax. Even though the 458 is dancing around in the strong crosswinds as it crosses the mile mark, its big carbon-ceramic brakes haul it down to highway speeds before I've covered even half of the half-mile braking zone. Bang, boom, done, it's over-and with exactly zero drama.
If you thought eleven seconds of fun was exhausting, you should try twenty-nine.
When I loop back around and stop at the timing booth, a guy in a hat hands me a piece of paper with a triple-digit speed printed on it. Funny, unlike every other time this has happened, there is no court date written on the paper. No tongue-lashing or handcuffs, either. And this one's a record -- 173.6 mph.
A record for me, that is -- because it quickly becomes clear that we're in some kind of alternate universe where a stupid-fast Ferrari isn't actually fast at all. At best, my Ferrari and Sherman's Corvette are mid-pack. An F-16 wouldn't seem all that quick in this crowd. Spaceballs' "ludicrous speed" might go unnoticed.
Worse, Sherman's deafening Lingenfelter-tuned ZR1 is barely audible at full-tilt over the thrum of idling cars on the grid. Even cars that look innocuous are insane: a Cadillac DTS almost shatters my sunglasses with an exhaust so loud you could still make out its firing order a mile away. A Volkswagen R32, normally one of the sweetest-sounding cars in the world, belches a turbocharged acoustic fury not unlike that of a garbage disposal grinding up nitroglycerin tablets.
One particularly impressive sound is the one a twin-turbocharged Lamborghini Gallardo makes when shredding the internals of its transmission. Still, you'll see more breakdowns in twenty minutes of reality TV than in a whole weekend at the Texas Mile. In spite of (or perhaps as a result of) how astonishingly fast the cars are, they all seem to be bolted together well. So do the people -- participants and spectators are all friendly and remarkably well-behaved. OK, so a few police officers jumped up from the lunch table on account of a reported on-site shooting, but apparently that's no big deal here, because they were all back in a few minutes. Hey, it's Texas-yee-haw!
Or perhaps they didn't care who got shot (and obviously no one did) because the food is so damn good. I, for one, wasn't venturing too far away from the Fusion Taco Truck, a Houston-based mobile restaurant teeming with great dance music, energetic staff, and Asian-Mexican fusion vittles that are, no joke, among the best food I've tasted in my life. I'd fly back to Texas just for a meal from that truck.
Except if I ever come back to the Texas Mile, I'll do things a little differently. First, I'll bring a bicycle -- you don't realize how long a mile is until you walk it 3700 times in one day. Second, to maximize social time, I'll bring an RV and just sleep at the track. Third, and most important, I'll choose something far, far faster and more dangerous than a little ol' Ferrari. Especially if that troublemaker Sherman shows up again.
A Corvette ZR1 serves as the perfect Ferrari foil
By: Don Sherman
Locking throttles open for a mile or more at a time has been my stock in trade for decades, mainly because it's a calling that never goes stale. So, the instant I heard a Texas Mile attack was planned, I began conniving a way to snatch a slice of the speed.
My ploy was an intramural race folded into the mix of 1000-hp sports cars and 200-mph motorcycles competing at the Goliad Industrial Airpark. I proposed pitting the home team, a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, against the pedigreed Italian stallion campaigned by my esteemed colleague, Jason Cammisa. This is a classic confrontation:
Ancient pushrod engine technology versus the latest Formula 1 horsepower science. Traditional clutch pedal and H-pattern transmission versus computerized launch control and power shifting.
Fat, force-fed pistons versus a lean, normally aspirated DOHC V-8 singing 9000 rpm.
A merely expensive car versus one attainable only by the filthy rich with platinum status on the Ferrari customer list.
Years of testing have taught me not to rush blindly into uncharted territory. Referring to acceleration data logged last summer, I feared that the Ferrari 458 Italia enjoyed the performance edge. Tended by a crew of five Maranello engineers and technicians, one very fit prancing horse bolted from rest to 180 mph in 4500 feet. ZR1 Corvettes tested in 2008 required another 500 feet-5000 total-to clear that same hurdle. To be assured of a strong finish in Texas, the Chevrolet would need what racing great Mark Donohue aptly dubbed an "unfair advantage."
From my perspective, two factors make a modification or two fair game for the Texas Mile. First, the majority of the cars and bikes competing here are tuned with horsepower helpers that range from mild to wild. The second point I stressed while posturing the Corvette to Automobile Magazine management as the underdog is that a ZR1 costs less than half the price of any new Ferrari. My request to exploit an unfair advantage was approved.
That prompted a second sales pitch, to Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) in Decatur, Indiana, a premier tuning house specializing in precisely the kind of Texas Mile advantage I was seeking.
This company goes way back. In 1988, founder John Lingenfelter built and drove the legendary, street-legal Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette 255 mph on an Ohio test track. After John died following a racing accident, his distant relative and car enthusiast Ken Lingenfelter stepped in to keep the enterprise firing on eight cylinders.
LPE's project director, Jason Haines, had exactly what we needed in stock: a 2009 graphite gray ZR1 equipped with two cost-effective modifications. To ram more air into the 6.2-liter small-block V-8, there's an LPE supercharger upgrade package yielding 710 hp at the flywheel. Corsa Xtreme pipes and mufflers allow the engine to bellow loud enough to be heard beyond the Texas Mile to the far corners of Goliad County.
The supercharger upgrade costs $2450 for parts plus $2845 for installation. The bill of materials lists a new front supercharger cover with a larger air entrance, two new drive pulleys, a repositioned air-cleaner assembly, and a 160-degree Fahrenheit thermostat. Installation is complicated by the need to disconnect the intercooler, various wires, and lots of plumbing from the engine before the supercharger can be removed for modifications.
In addition to providing a larger inlet port, this package raises the supercharger drive ratio by nineteen percent and the maximum boost by 4 psi (to 14.5 psi). LPE installs new control-module calibrations with the redline raised from 6500 to 7000 rpm. Customers are provided before-and-after plots created during chassis dynamometer testing. The 710 hp and 680 lb-ft of torque at the flywheel reflect gains of eleven and thirteen percent over stock. The $1795 exhaust pipes contribute another 5 hp to the bottom line.
They also crank up the ZR1's audio channel. When fired, this engine erupts like a mobile volcano. Inside the cabin, a nicely subdued cruising sound track swells like a nuclear cloud when the throttle's down. The Texas Mile crowd loved the stock-looking, war-whooping Corvette we trucked in from Indiana just for their entertainment.
One hour after runs began on Friday, I wowed those fans with a 180.0-mph pass in the number 710 Lingenfelter Corvette. By launching with less wheel spin and hustling shifts, I was able to add another 3.2 mph to our credit before the day's heat and wind rose to halt progress. Racing to 180 mph, this Corvette felt perfectly stable and happy at its work.
We climbed one additional step up the velocity ladder early Saturday morning, before the headwinds stirred and after we chilled the intercooler with a bag of ice. The final 185.9-mph pass gave the ZR1 a solid 12-mph advantage over Cammisa's red racer and was convincing evidence that overhead cams and a stratospheric redline are less important here than a supercharger spinning at nearly 20,000 rpm.
Cammisa deserves credit for earning one merit badge: his Ferrari topped the LPE ZR1's acceleration. Texas Vbox data revealed that he won the race to 60 mph by 0.2 second and the quarter-mile sprint by 0.3 second, thanks to just the right amount of launch spin and no speed lost during upshifts.
Long after the thrill of victory wears off, I'll remember the Texas Mile as a first-rate experience. Organizers Jay and Shannon Matus have created a fresh and fun category of motorsports with easy access for the speed hungry. And because this event takes place in Texas, there's a universal spirit of camaraderie long gone from other forms of racing.
PORSCHE 911 TURBO
Seventy-three-year-old Bill MacEachern is the original owner of this 1976 Porsche 911 Turbo, and he's put all 601,000 miles on it himself. That includes the drive from Canada to Texas for this event. In fact, his son Brian, a vintage-car racer, got to drive it for the first time here at the Texas Mile, and his reaction was "Holy shit, shift. Holy shit, shift. Holy shit, shift." That colorful reaction happened because the 3.4-liter flat six runs 17.5 psi of boost through custom intercoolers into twin-plug heads and produces something like 550 hp at the wheels. Bill, whose fastest run was within 1 mph of his son's, has been a speed freak for some time. When his boys were little, he used to strap them in the back seat to visit racetracks around North America. On one particularly brisk trip home, he pointed to the speedometer needle and said to his sons: "See that? Don't let me ever catch you going faster than
150 mph." Good advice.
Standing among spectators, we overheard someone say, "Watch that white pickup-it's a buddy of mine. He's going to do almost 200 mph." Uh-huh, 20 mph faster than a Ferrari? Fat chance, we thought. Guess who was wrong? Sergio "Flaco" Gonzalez's 1999 GMC Sierra has a turbocharged, nitrous-injected 427-cubic-inch V-8 that he says makes 1150 hp. Check out the black rubber dust on the back fenders-this pickup shredded its big ol' tires the entire length of the track.
An unmodified Gallardo will run less than 160 mph in the mile, but Richard Holt's twin-turbocharged Gallardo set the record here last year at 250.1 mph with no advanced safety equipment. He spun out at the end of that run-just as he did on many earlier runs, so officials required him to install a roll cage this year. They probably saved his life in doing so: after crossing the mile marker at 235.2 mph, Holt deployed his parachute. It's hard to tell for sure what happened next, but it appears that the chute forced the twin-turbo, 1900-hp Gallardo sideways and off the track. Once in the dirt, the number 0013 Lambo flipped end-over-end five times, at one point hurtling itself more than twenty feet in the air. It was caught on video, of course, so you can see it for yourself on YouTube. The Lamborghini disintegrated in the accident, but Holt was uninjured except for a scratch on his thumb. The crashes are bigger in Texas-but thankfully, so is the luck. Even for number 13.
Gordon Duax's 1990 Cressida was one of the few normally aspirated, non-nitrous cars here. His car revs to the moon-8500 rpm-courtesy of a bunch of engine mods he did himself. The 3.0-liter straight-six uses 12.5:1 Cosworth pistons and breathes through oversize valves and 272-degree cams. The entire car rocks at idle from the engine's awesome lope. The four-speed automatic remains, and with a new, shorter 5.29:1 rear axle, he hoped to beat his previous 135-mph run here. Unfortunately, the engine blew-a pain, because this 91,000-mile Cressida is his daily driver. Still, Duax laughed it off, saying he's always wanted to try even higher, 14:1 compression pistons. Atta boy
Ford Mustang Diesel
On the outside, it looks like a standard 1994 Ford Mustang, but Mike Wood's car is anything but. With a 427-cubic-inch Duramax diesel squeezed into a Wolfe Race Craft tube-frame chassis, this Mustang sounds like an old school bus and smokes like a BBQ pit. Wood says what's great about the Texas Mile is that "nothing's too weird." Apparently, that includes 1100-hp diesel Mustangs running 48 psi of boost, a 1500-shot of nitrous, and 205 mph in a standing mile.
Mac McClanahan entered his 1972 Cadillac as an art car-a special class of vehicles with alleged artistic value. If you don't think the eight exhaust pipes sticking up from the 600-hp, 502-cubic-inch V-8 constitute art (we do), then get a load of the backstory-McClanahan got the car from a body shop where it was left behind by an owner convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. To create his patina-dressed masterpiece of automotive art, McClanahan ran the Caddy at the Bonneville Salt Flats before bringing it to the Texas Mile. Next up is a demolition derby before the front-wheel-drive flyer is parked for good.