SONOMA, California -- They are the hot rods of the 21st Century.
The parallels are unmistakable: Young people taking their cars and turning them into statements about their lifestyles, their likes and dislikes, their music, and kicking the butt of the car in the other lane.
These high-powered machines roll into Infineon Raceway Sept. 7-8 for the NHRA Tuned by Matrix GR Motorsports Sport Compact Nationals, presented by Wallstreet.com.
The difference between traditional drag racing and Sport Compact drag racing is in the vehicles used. In the late-1940s and early-1950s the cars of choice were Chevrolets and Fords. In 2002 Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans, and Mazdas dominate. That's not to say Detroit is going down quietly. Pontiac, Ford, and Dodge all have entries in the six categories that comprise the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series.
Another difference between traditional drag racing and the sport compact version is how the racers make horsepower. In the former, power is built via superchargers, in the latter it's via turbochargers (usually associated with road- and formula-racing) and/or nitrous oxide.
The two glamour classes in sport compact drag racing are Pro and Pro V8. Both categories use tube chassis. In Pro the engines can be rotary, four, six, and eight cylinders and have power adders such as turbos and nitrous oxide. In Pro V8 the engines must be overhead cam and use production block and heads, and only one power adder, turbo or nitrous oxide, is allowed.
The performance from these cars is nothing short of startling, with quarter-mile runs in the low-sevens at speeds around 195 mph. Matt Scranton, driving a Pro V8 Toyota Celica GT, recorded sport compact drag racing's first 200-mph run with a 202.55-mph blast at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Englishtown, N.J., in May, and has run as quick as 7.10 seconds. In the Pro class, Tetsuya Kawasaki, at the wheel of a twin-turbo Nissan 180SX, is the performance leader with laps of 7.18 seconds and 191.46 mph, also recorded at Englishtown.
In traditional drag racing it is rare to see a front-wheel drive car, but in sport compact drag racing, front-wheel drive thrives in both the Modified and Hot Rod classes. Stephan Papadakis' Modified Honda Civic holds several performance records, being the first front-wheel drive vehicle into eights, and the first to exceed 160 mph, 170 mph, and 180 mph. Modified cars use full-tube chassis and can be FWD, all-wheel drive, or back-half rear-wheel drive.
Car modifications in Hot Rod are somewhat more restrictive, with tube chassis prohibited and the engines can only be either four- or six-cylinder and as in Modified, must be the same manufacturer as the body. Bruce Mortensen's Civic is the class leader in Hot Rod, and where performances typically are in the low-nine-second range, Mortensen has run as quick as 8.81-seconds and 167 miles per hour.
WHAT: Tuned by Matrix GR Motorsports Sport Compact Nationals, presented by Wallstreet.com. It is the eighth stop on the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series schedule for 2002.
WHEN: Sept. 7-8, Infineon Raceway.
SCHEDULE: Gates open at 8 a.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. on Sunday. Qualifying and time trials on Saturday. Final time trials on Sunday, followed by final eliminations at 1 p.m. All times PDT.
COST: $15 Saturday, $25 Sunday, $30 weekend pass. Children 12 and under free.