Race Fans Road Trip: Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Aerial view of downtown Charlotte, NC.

Charlotte, NC, Source | Erick Lee Hodge/Unsplash

There’s nothing quite like a road trip to Charlotte, NC, to get immersed in the world of NASCAR and racing. Right off the line, the majority of NASCAR race teams are based in the area. Then you have the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For race fans, the Queen City is hard to beat. So tune up the car and drive on down (within the legal speed limit, mind you) to check out these unforgettable experiences.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

NASA Firecracker Run at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Source | James Willamor/Wikimedia Commons

May is a popular time to visit the Charlotte Motor Speedway, thanks to spring weather and big races like the Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend and the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star. Located in Concord, just north of the big city, Charlotte Motor Speedway (formerly Lowe’s Motor Speedway) is a 1.5-mile quad-oval track. Race fans are ensured a great view from anywhere in the 89,000-seat stadium, thanks to a massive, nearly 16,000-square-foot HDTV. For a different kind of race experience, jaunt across the street to watch drivers tear it up at the four-lane zMax Dragway or get a taste of North Carolina red clay at the Dirt Track.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Classic NASCAR car

Source | Flickr

At the NASCAR Hall of Fame, there’s more to see than famous cars like the Fabulous Hudson Hornet and Lee Petty’s Oldsmobile Super 88 (#42). You can retrace the history of NASCAR on a 64-foot-wide projection screen in the High Octane Theater. Then try out for the pit crew, and sit in the driver’s seat. With the Hall of Fame’s interactive, loud-as-life exhibits, visitors get a front-row seat to the best NASCAR has to offer.

Richard Petty Driving Experience

NASCAR Petty Driving Experience. Dodge Charger

Richard Petty Driving Experience, Source | Wikimedia Commons

Along with parachuting out of a plane and bungee jumping off a bridge, the Richard Petty Driving Experience is on the bucket list of every adrenaline junkie. Roar along the Charlotte Motor Speedway in a stock car at up to 160 mph. Just watching the in-car video is enough to make your palms sweat. Of course, this experience doesn’t come cheap. A little more than a hundred bucks will get you a shotgun ride in a stock car for three laps. If you want to take the wheel like a rookie, and race eight heart-pounding laps, it’ll cost you around $450. Bring friends and family to watch. And maybe a change of pants.

Race shops

Richard_Childress

Richard Childress, Source | Wikimedia Commons

Some of the biggest names in NASCAR call the Charlotte area home, including Richard Petty Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc. The racing shops feature a variety of tours, museums, showrooms, retail stores, and fan experiences. Visitors to Richard Childress Racing, based in aptly named Welcome, NC, can visit the RCR Cup and XFINITY shops. They can also tour a 47,000-square-foot museum housing nearly 50 race vehicles.

Childress Vineyards

two wine glasses

Childress Vineyards, Source | Courtesy Childress Vineyards

If you’ve been to a race during your visit to North Carolina, chances are you’ve gorged yourself on a foot-long hotdog and cheese fries, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if your ears are still ringing from the track and your palette needs cleansing from the grit and exhaust, then check out Childress Vineyards. Owned by NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, the 72-acre vineyard and winery is located in Lexington, 10 minutes from RCR’s shop and museum. Tour the vineyard and taste a selection of the winery’s 30 award-winning varietals. Then settle back on the covered bistro patio with lunch and a glass of Cabernet, and toast to the checkered flag at the end of your trip.

Have you visited any of these Charlotte race venues? Tell us about your experience in the comments.


Heads up: You can win a VIP trip to the Coca-Cola 600 in May! Enter now for a chance to win:

  • Air travel and hotel for each grand prize winner and their guest
  • VIP access to track, hospitality suite, and paddock over race weekend
  • VIP access to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and a meet & greet with the band

Getting to Know John Force

John Force is a legendary NHRA racer, team owner of John Force Racing, and proud father of racers Courtney, Ashley, and Brittany, and father-in-law to Rob Hight. He started racing in 1978 and is still going strong—but did you know he almost quit the sport before winning 10 championships in a row?

We sat down with John to talk about his famed racing career, his successful team and family, and what he likes to do off the track.

john-force

Interview with John “Brute” Force

1. What compelled you to start racing? And what keeps you going?

I played high school football as a quarterback, and I liked the camaraderie as a team. Drag racing allows me the opportunity to be with teams and race and hear the cheer of the crowd. My family has gotten involved in it, my daughters, my son-in-law—and maybe in the future my grandchildren. But I love it. I love the competition. I love the camaraderie. I love the cheer of the crowd when you win. Even the battle of defeat is a motivation for me to get up and fight harder. I’ve loved NHRA my whole life, and I’ve watched drag racing since I was in high school. That’s why I always say, “I’ll do it until I drop,” and I guess I will.

2. Sixteen-times NHRA champions! Any seasons that stand out—from overcoming obstacles or everything seeming to go right?

When you look at my career, there have always been crossroads. In my early days, when you run out of money and then you get a call to go and run a match, that just carries you. My crash in 2007—when I broke my arms and legs—was a setback where they thought I may not drive again. But I overcame that and came back and won the championship in 2010. That was big.

Losing financially is the biggest thing that can put you out of business, and I lost two great partners a couple of years ago. But Auto Club and Mac Tools always stood by me, and I was lucky enough to get Advance Auto Parts, PEAK, Monster Energy, and Chevrolet.

I’ve been really lucky to overcome those obstacles and get to do what I love to do. It’s a lot of work, but we’re getting it done.

3. Did you always plan for your children to join the “family business?” How is it having them on the JFR team?

You never know what your children are going to do, but I knew when they were old enough to get a driver’s license. Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney all wanted to go to Frank Hawley’s Driving School. They wanted to drive Super Comp, and then they went to A/Fuel. They evolved into it, and now I’m really proud to be a part of it. I love having Brittany in Top Fuel with Monster Energy, Courtney in Funny Car with Advance Auto Parts, and me with PEAK. And Ashley raced with us, too. Racing with my kids, yeah, it’s a gut-ache for my wife Laurie and me, the fear of them getting hurt. But to watch them do something they love to do and then to see the win lights come on. I’m excited about it, and I’m ready for 2017.

4. What would you tell people who never heard of NHRA racing? What’s the best way to describe it?

It’s P.T. Barnum at 300 mph. I’ve seen the circus. It’s the Greatest Show on Earth, but so is drag racing. It’s 10,000 horsepower. It’s nitromethane and fire belching out the pipes.It’s the cheer of the crowd. Nighttime qualifying is unbelievable. It’s two people racing each other, which is different from running in a pack like NASCAR and IndyCar. It’s you against the driver in the other lane. Four times on race day, if you’re lucky.

“I really don’t have hobbies. I don’t golf: I’m terrible. I tried it once and drove the beer cart, so that was OK.”

5. What are your “off the track” hobbies?

When I was young and raising a family, and got off work after driving a truck, I took my race car to the track. Now, I go to the race track and work every day in the business I love. I really don’t have hobbies. I don’t golf: I’m terrible. I tried it once and drove the beer cart, so that was okay. I’ve got a car collection of Chevrolets, Corvettes, Harley-Davidsons, and different cars. But I don’t have time to drive those.

If I was going to claim a hobby, it would be this: Taking my grandkids to the movies and to the park and spending time at home with them.

You can follow the John Force Racing team by checking out their full racing schedule. If you want more Force Racing news, see our interview with Courtney Force and a tour of her dragster car.

Do you agree with John that drag racing is the “Greatest Show on Earth?” Let us know what you think.

Courtney Force Explains the Thrill of Driving a Funny Car

NHRA Funny Cars deliver some of the most exciting racing on earth, backed by extreme engineering, precision teamwork, and fearless drivers. Nothing quite matches the fury of two racers blistering the track at more than 300 miles per hour. We wanted to know more about these super powerful machines, so we talked to NHRA pro racer Courtney Force to get the details.

Source | CourtneyForce.com

How does it feel to drive a Funny Car? – It’s no joke

“You’re pretty much strapped to a rocket,” says Courtney Force, driver for John Force Racing and the winningest female NHRA Funny Car driver of all time. “It’s a 10,000-horsepower car, and we launch at four or five Gs off the starting line—and negative Gs when we pull the parachutes—so it’s an exhilarating ride.”

Exhilarating might be an understatement here. You might have wondered how much horsepower a Top Fuel Funny Car has, but the answer can only be approximated as there isn’t a dynamometer on earth that can survive measuring the exact power level. The roots-style supercharger forces air into the forged aluminum engine at a crushing 65 psi. Like a firehose, the fuel pump can push more than 100 gallons per minute. Each race consumes about 15 gallons, so Force’s Camaro burns roughly 60 gallons of nitromethane per mile. Tipping the scale at only 2,300 pounds, the 0 to 60 number looks like a typo, taking about 0.8 seconds. Force has completed the 1,000-foot track in 3.855 seconds, at a top speed of 331.45 miles per hour. All those stats sound extreme? They should, as this car is built with only the best parts.

“We build everything in-house at John Force Racing,” Force said. “That gives our teams a little bit of an advantage. We have a paint shop, a chassis shop, and the guys in our shop in Brownsburg, Ind., really do a phenomenal job with these cars.”

The winner is determined by far more just than stats on paper, and fans love how the drivers leave everything out on the track in a tire-smoking and earth-shaking display of power. In the stands, you can feel the engine vibrations in your chest even from hundreds of feet away. Force broke it down for us, describing how it feels to drive a Funny Car.

“Outside of the Funny Car, it’s very loud and powerful,” she says. “But when you’re in the cockpit of the car, I get into my zone, and it becomes surprisingly peaceful. My earplugs and radio are in, and I have a headsock and a helmet that kind of muffles the sound.” Force says the race is less peaceful, as no amount of insulation can muffle the ferocious power of the big V8.

“The closest thing I could think of would be trying to hold on to a bull for seven seconds—except we’ve got to do it in four. You can’t really compare it to a roller-coaster ride because of the Gs that we pull, but it’s definitely a rush and a lot of fun for a crazy, four-second ride.”

The street car

The Chevrolet Camaro SS that you can buy from a dealer is a little different. The direct injected 6.2L V8 generates 455 hp and 455 lb-ft. Solid numbers, but we’re already losing this race. A supercharger isn’t available on the SS model, and the street car weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds heavier than the race car, at 3,685 pounds. The fuel pump can push 66 gallons per hour (not minute), and the SS earns an estimated 25 MPG highway, so at least the street car wins that contest.

We’re comparing apples and oranges here: Zero to 60 in four seconds flat is impressive for the price, but it won’t keep up with Force’s car. The quarter mile passes in 12.3 seconds at 116 mph, also an impressive feat but way slower than a Top Fuel Funny Car. Still, Force says the Camaro SS is a fun ride.

“I was driving a Camaro SS as my everyday car,” she says. “I got to do to a project with a COPO Camaro, so I’ve worked a lot with Chevy.” Force says that—surprisingly—she had never done a burnout or raced a street car on the track until the COPO promotional event, and the Camaro was a lot of fun.

“Having the Camaro SS as an everyday car is perfect for someone like me who loves racing and likes a sportier car on the road.”

Experience the speed

No one’s going to be driving a Funny Car as a daily driver. Still, there are parts available to help you feel a little more like Courtney does on race day, from superchargers to performance exhaust systems. Maybe get started with an aftermarket air intake or short throw shifter. Whether you have a Chevy Silverado or a Honda Accord, there’s parts and knowledge out there that can show you how to increase horsepower for nearly any vehicle.

If you’d rather leave speed to the pros, check out an NHRA event this year and catch some Funny Car racing. See if there’s going to be a race near you, or follow Force on her official page, Facebook, or Twitter.

“We’re really excited here at John Force Racing,” Force says. “Especially for my team since we’ve teamed up with Advance Auto Parts for our Funny Car for 2017. We’ve got the same team as I had last year, and if we can continue to roll over what we had going on with our team and our car, I think 2017 is going to be our best year yet.”

Are you an NHRA fan? Let us know in the comments. 

Racing for the Total Newb

Do you want to go racing, but only lack the race car and professional license? That’s okay! While NASCAR won’t allow you on-track just yet, there are plenty of ways for the total beginner to get out there and hit the redline, safely and affordably. If it’s time to put away your racing video games for the real thing, head to one of these local events to get your adrenaline fix.

Drag Racing

Source | Andy Jensen

Drag racing

By far the most affordable way to transform your daily driver into a race car is to visit your local drag strip. Quarter mile and eighth-mile tracks are scattered across the country, and most will have a “test and tune” session every week or two. Wait for the green light, gas it, and get to the finish as quickly as possible. The first one down the track wins, then make adjustments to tire pressure or suspension settings, and head out for another, faster pass. An entire evening of racing can run as little as $15, with zero additional equipment needed if your car is safe and not incredibly quick. Still in high school and driving mom’s 1989 Ford Escort? That’s okay, just bring your license and insurance, and you’re all set to go racing.

Autocross

If straight line racing isn’t your thing, look into autocross. Typically taking place in closed parking lots, the “track” is an improvised course that can be unique and challenging every single time, unlike most other race formats. The goal is to finish as quickly as possible, but getting there requires a smart and smooth driver rather than a high horsepower mega-dollar car. If you aren’t a member, you’ll have to pay the slightly higher entry fee of roughly $50, but that’s still a great deal for hours of fun and a learning experience. You’ll need a helmet. You can borrow a loaner from the track, but good helmets that meet safety standards are also affordable.

Autocross

Source | Andy Jensen

Track day

Track days take place on America’s various road courses, and will have different rules according to the club running the event. In general, you’re looking at high speeds on technical tracks with elevation changes, hairpins, and off-camber turns. High Performance Driving Events are high-speed learning experiences. While they aren’t technically races, HPDE is a great way to go all out on a road course. Track Night is another friendly event for the total beginner, and you can opt for instruction here too.

Chump Car

“Real racing. Real tracks. Real cheap cars.” You’ve seen Laguna Seca and Daytona on TV, now it’s time to race on them in total beaters. Chump Car turns junk into race cars in a throwback to when private teams were able to go out and win a weekend race. This will cost a bit, as your race car will need a cage and other safety equipment, but it can be done for just a few grand, which is a bargain to field a car in an endurance race series. 24 Hours of LeMons similarly flogs cheap beaters, but with even more flair.

Race school

If you don’t care about trophies and just want to go fast, look into the various forms of race schools. Xtreme Xperience gives classroom instruction, followed by laps in an exotic supercar with a pro race driver giving tips on how to go faster in every section of track. Step up to a real race car for just $200 with Driving101. Real NASCAR race cars and pit crews provide an extra touch of realism as you pretend to be Kevin Harvick at 170 mph. Last, if you really want to learn to drive fast, sign up for a class at Bondurant Race School. You’ll learn advanced techniques in Vipers, Hellcats, and open wheel racers.

Good advice for all race formats is to have a car in good working condition. If you feel the need to spend money on upgraded parts, start with the best tires and brakes you can afford. Finally, remember to relax and just have fun your first time out. Next time, focus on trying to set a new personal best time, but the point is to get out there and get started.

Have any advice for first-timers? Let’s hear it.

Formula Drift 2015: rocking the Orlando race

Formula Drift  car picture

A new track, a new city . . . with the same tough challenges. Formula DRIFT has hit tracks from Long Beach to Fuji, year after year bringing head to head battles to loyal fans – and now the famous race descends on Orlando. Advance was there—check out our exclusive coverage and photos.

Formula Drift photo

On June 5th and 6th, the Sunshine State welcomed a noisy, fire-breathing visitor. Formula DRIFT, the prominent stateside series, took to Orlando Speedworld (OSW) bringing out drivers – ranging from amateurs to top tier pros – to the oval circus for a long weekend of racing madness. Fans and drivers alike called it reminiscent of New Jersey tracks back in Formula DRIFT’s heritage days.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Pro and Pro 2 series competitors brought in crazy attendance numbers to the classic small town oval (with a figure eight cross to boot!) and Mother Nature attended in full force, as well, bringing rain in swaths along with sweltering temperatures for every single second of the day.

Formula Drift car race photo

Pro series drivers battled it out on Friday to qualify for Saturday’s main event. And, when the local hero Pat Goodin suffered mechanical troubles, the veteran stepped down to leave the playing field WIDE open.

Saturday morning dawns

The track felt empty but, in the paddock, teams were alive and well, getting their drift missiles ready for the Top 32 bracket competition just hours away.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Come on . . . picture the scene . . .

OSW offers one way on and one way off the track. Drivers pull onto the track and straight onto the burnout bank as the last two hooligans exit through the single lane chute back into the hot pit area. After a few tears up and down the burnout bank, drivers stage on the back half of the oval waiting for the all clear.

Formula Drift 55 race picture

On green, the lead driver launches through his chicane and down the back straight, the following car tight on the rear right, waiting for the lead to dive into the corner at “Initiation Point.” With a flick, both cars put the hammer down and power the entire corner keeping as close to the wall and as close to each other as they possibly can.

Formula Drift 49 race photo

The more fluidity, the more points, the more pizazz . . . the greater the score.

This first corner is on the high bank, making the drivers’ next move a teeth-clenching drop from the bank to the figure eight crossover. Both drivers smack the front air dams as they come off the bank slowly, preparing to flip from right-angled to left-angled slides.

Formula Drift 44 photo

If the harsh transition from high bank to flat oval wasn’t enough of an obstacle, drivers were thrown over a jump as they finish the transition and try to initiate the second sweeping oval turn. Mustangs and Matias alike caught the slightest air coming sideways over this bump, unloading and loading the car suspensions right as drivers tried to slam the power on to get proper speed for the upcoming left-hand sweeper.

Formula Drift 15 photo

The final corner crosses back past the burnout bank and the starting grid, but stays low on the flat section. After holding the slide for the entire top of the figure eight, the cars bolt through the finish line, billowing that gorgeous white smoke, letting the audience know that those tires have been thoroughly disciplined.

Mother Nature ups the ante

Weather conditions transformed this track into a low-lying above-ground swamp for a few hours every day, with Pro and Pro 2 racers alike seeing plenty of rain during battle. Saturday night, the classic Florida evening showers greeted fans with a welcomed cool down, but also with an unwelcomed torrential downpour.

Formula Drift 45

Racers pushed on through the storm, though, and conditions really tested the drivers’ abilities – and it’s always awesome to see who succeeds when the going gets tough. Everyone sets up for dry weather and, when the weather changes, it’s equally a handicap for each of the drivers. A lack of smoke was disheartening for spectators, but the massive rooster tails were enthralling to watch as the cars barreled through the flooded infield.

Formula Drift 16 photo

The bottom line; drivers with true grit garner their experience and determination to make a spectacular full pull happen.

Results

• Scion had a killer weekend and nears a manufacturer championship as FR-S drivers Ryan Tuerck and Kenshiro Gushi take 1st and 3rd, respectively.

• While Chris Forsberg, 2nd place, beat out Gushi, all Tuerck had to do to secure the win over Forsberg and his 370z was complete a full pull unopposed. Forsberg suffered mechanical issues, though, and Tuerck walked away with his first round win since 2009.

Formula Drift 55 photo

Here is the full 2015 Formula DRIFT race schedule.

Grateful Dead of Motorsports: Lawn Mower Racing

Lawn Mowing Race1 photo

Imagine this help wanted ad: Do you enjoy motorsports (wishing they weren’t so dang expensive!) and love to tinker? Do you get into competition – and yet are the kind of person who will readily reach out a hand to help? Do you appreciate green grass, apple pie and spending time with friends and family? And, oh yes, do you have a good sense of humor and enjoy having fun? If so, we need YOU to race a lawn mower.

We at Advance Auto Parts have been hearing more and more about the grassroots sport of lawn mower racing across the country and we know that many of our readers love to DIY. So we talked to a couple of lawn mower racing diehards and are bringing you the results of our conversations.

Modifying a lawn mower into a racing machine

According to Bruce Kaufman (AKA Mr. Mow-It-All), the president of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA), 90% of racing lawn mowers are crafted in someone’s garage, with that “someone” typically having “mechanical ingenuity.”

If you’re interested in giving this a try and want to race in a USLMRA event, Bruce shares that you’ll find a circus atmosphere with a unique and special subculture focused on camaraderie – thus, the connection with the Grateful Dead.

In preparation, you simply start with a self-propelled rotary or reel-style riding lawn mower that was designed and sold commercially, specifically to mow lawns. However you modify the mower, it must remain suitable for lawn mowing, outside of the exceptions listed in the association’s handbook. Having said that, one requirement for race entry is that cutting blades are completely removed from the mower.

Here are other requirements:

  • Non-stock mowers must be equipped with an automatic throttle closing device.
  • All mowers must be equipped with an engine safety cut-off switch.
  • Mower brakes must be in good condition, operating on at least 2 wheels.
  • Fuel must be pump gas. The only additive allowed is STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer.

Each mower is inspected prior to racing and can be re-inspected at any time. Safety first!

The USLMRA website provides plenty of tips, including this formula:

Small front pulley + large rear pulley = slow!
Large front pulley + small rear pulley = fast!

A tethered kill switch will shut down the engine if you get bucked off, and it needs securely attached to the driver and the mower. The blade deck should remain in place, solidly bolted to hold your weight without swaying. You can install a hand or foot throttle, and most racers replace the front axle with a stronger one. Review the tech section of the site plus the rulebook thoroughly if you decide to give this a go!

Bruce says that there are 11 racing classes and, although none of them permit blades, the resulting racing machines range from “mild to wild.” Typically, modifications are made to carburetors and engines, plus to the chassis. Good brakes are crucial, Bruce says, as is reliable steering. That’s because, as horsepower is added, it also needs controlled on this racing machine that has no suspension. Bruce then mysteriously adds that there are “secret speed tricks that inspectors will never know . . .” Hmmm.

Built for speed

If you’ve never attended a lawn mower race, you might scoff at what you imagine they’d consider “speed.” If so, then you might be shocked to know that even ESPN reported when lawn mowing star Bobby Cleveland broke the speed record by going more than 96 miles per hour! That’s right. Bobby reached an astonishing speed of 96.529 mph on September 25, 2010, beating out the previous record of Don Wales of Britain (who had broken Cleveland’s previous record of 80.792 mph with a speed of 87.833 mph!) and bringing the speed record back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Not surprisingly, then, Bobby is a proud member of the USLMRA National Lawn Mower Racing Hall of Fame, founded for “Turf Titans who have turned a weekend chore into a competitive sport.” He has clinched more than 75 first place victories and nine STA-BIL Series National Championships. He built the world’s first “Monster Mower” and also holds the world record for monster mower jumping. He has “always loved to ride motorcycles, race lawn mowers, build hot rods and tinker in the garage. His passion for motors and what makes them work runs as deep as his appetite for Southern BBQ, sweet tea and being on the road.”

Broad appeal of the sport

Although it’s the champions who make the headlines, Bruce says that the sport appeals to a wide swath of people, youngsters as well as grandpas, and every age demographic in between. He says that it’s common to see relatives participate in racing together, adding that the “family that mows together, grows together.” Because this activity is more affordable than the typical motorsport, that makes it even more family friendly. More specifically, costs of participating typically run in the $100s to the $1,000s, according to Bruce, not the tens of thousands.

Racers must belong to the USLMRA as well as to a sanctioned affiliated club. Racers can be as young as eight, although all under the age of 18 need parental permission. “Participants run the gamut of socioeconomic classes and geographical boundaries,” Bruce says, with Aaron Crowl (president of the American Racing Mower Association) adding that he and his family have raced against “people getting started in life to people who have retired after a long and successful career, from people who perform manual labor to business executives, doctors and people with Ph.Ds., and from teachers to school principals.” (When Aaron refers to his family, he means his wife and their twin daughters.)

Both Bruce and Aaron compare the racing environment to that of a family reunion complete with camping, camaraderie and food (and, as Aaron points out, “sometimes a weird but lovable person who reminds you of your Uncle Al”). Both men point out that this atmosphere can exist because no one races for a purse, merely for fun, a trophy and some bragging rights. Rivals may challenge you to the nth degree – and yet, when your engine falters, they’ll give you a wrench, a spare part, or even an entire engine.

“If someone came to a race who was TOO competitive,” Bruce muses, “I’d probably say, ‘Dude, you need to do something else.’ Motivation to win is good but, if you’re too serious about winning, you’d tend not to fit in.” To honor people who perform selfless acts in helping others, the racing organization gives out the Spirit and Spark Award.

Another requirement for participation, although an unofficial one, seems to be a love of bad puns. When you attend, you’ll meet people and vehicles with nicknames like Geronimow, Sodzilla and Prograsstinator, with the president of USMLRA being affectionately known as the grasshole.

Despite the sense of silliness that graces the sport, races are nevertheless judged fairly and professionally, with a computer-based scoring system that monitors race times to 1/1,000 of a second, with results posted quickly online, along with season-to-date rankings.

Past to present – to predictions

When asked about the evolution of the sport, Bruce gives a shout-out to STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer, which he says has nurtured this sport along from its inception (okay, so he actually said they’ve “watered the grass of this sport from the start”). He also shares how he’s seen the technology of racing lawn mowers evolve thanks to the creativity of participants and how the potential of speed has increased with the technological improvements.

Meanwhile, Aaron notes how, early on, racers needed to be especially creative because nobody was making parts specifically for racing mowers. As the sport has grown, though, niche high performance parts have become available, opening the sport to people who couldn’t effectively adapt parts intended for another purpose for their racing machine.Lawn Mowing Race 2 photo

As for the future, Aaron sees super modified mowers becoming increasingly common, those that are lower and wider than previous models, but still recognizable as mowers. “I have mixed emotions about that change, actually,” he admits, “being old school. But you have to be realistic about the future.”

Bruce doesn’t see mowers becoming much faster, believing that current models are at the peak of what can safely be allowed – and both men envision and hope for further expansion of local clubs and community events centering on the quirky yet exciting motorsport of lawn mower racing.

Even if you don’t plan to race, you’ll probably still mow this spring and summer. Find the lawn and garden parts you need online at Advance Auto Parts.

Pro Am Kart Race Benefits Children

Pro Am kart race  photoPatrick Long’s Pro Am Kart Race to Benefit All Children’s Hospital. It’s a long name, for sure, but the cause is simple: to generate donations and support for All Children’s Hospital John Hopkins Medicine while creating fantastic memories for everyone involved. This hospital is a “leading center for pediatric treatment, education, and research . . . specializes in providing care for newborns through teen(s) and is the only specialty licensed children’s hospital on Florida’s west coast.”

Pro Am kart race 3 photoBecause this benefit is a Pro-Am race, racing junkies go head-to-head with their motorsports heroes who, less than 24 hours earlier, competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring. For many novice racers in 2015, the entry fee was worth its weight in gold to share a track and make friends with drivers that most fans only meet on television.

Celebrity drivers

The race was held on March 22nd. Well known participants include Porsche factory driver, ALMS champion and Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans winner, Patrick Long; NASCAR Truck Rookie of the Year, ALMS & Grand-Am driver, and Daytona speed record holder, Colin Braun; Champ car, ALMS, and Grand-Am driver, Jan Heylen; and Delta wing driver, Katherine Legge, among other professional drivers.

Event coverage

karting 6 pictureNow, don’t be fooled! While the mood was lighthearted and cheerful, competition was fierce. The classic Le Mans style start kicked off the festivities with a sense of spirited rivalry as, for more than 1.5 hours, teams rotated through their drivers and karts.Pro Am kart race 7 photo

This afternoon event raised a whopping $65,000 for All Children’s Hospital, through a combination of entry fees, buying laps back in an attempt to win, a silent auction, a regular auction – and generous donations.

Auction items included race suits and artwork, with one team going above and beyond, donating the trophy they’d won the day before at Sebring. The gentleman who made the highest bid graciously returned the trophy to the winning driver and team, wanting simply to show his appreciation for their selfless donation while also contributing to the cause.

Pro Am kart race 1 photoThat gesture will be hard to beat – and yet, the karting fans who participate in the All Children’s Hospital benefit race are just the ones to raise up the generosity ante in 2016. So, stay tuned!

 

 

 

12 Hours of Sebring: Corvette finishes first

Sebring corvette

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Check out our exclusive coverage and photos from the recent 12 Hours of Sebring in 2015.

Let’s face it. The Chevy brand couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.

Chevy took the 12 Hours of Sebring by storm at the 63rd annual racing event held on Saturday, March 21 in Sebring, Florida. Corvette Racing dominated, securing the podium for the Daytona Prototype field and sneaking in a solid first place in GTLM.

Sebring 17 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Besides pleasing ‘vette fans, the combination of a Chevy bowtie and a stellar weekend will undoubtedly make corporate happy. After all, Corvette’s racing heritage boosts sales.

Corvette’s win was a Porsche loss

In GTLM, the #3 Corvette took first place partially because of equipment failures on the leading Porsche RSR during pit stops near the end of the race. Staying at the front through 12 hours with blazing hot track temps and numerous cautions is no easy feat – and, in this case at least, the Porsche wasn’t up to the challenge.

Sebring 4 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

The reality is that there is no shortage of driver challenges in a race like this that can knock a great team out of the running. The winning formula typically consists of effectively timing pit shops, executing flawless driver changes, staying out of traffic and avoiding costly mistakes caused by fatigue.

Sebring 9 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

In 2015, on the Sebring race track that once served as Hendricks Army Airfield, it was Corvette Racing that took home the trophy and bragging rights. 2016? It’s anyone’s guess.

 

 

More photos from Sebring 2015:

Sebring 13 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 6 photo

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 11 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 14 photo

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 8 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 1 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

 

 

Pittsburgh Dodge Challenger SRT Runs 10s in its First Time Out — Unmodified!

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat pictureAccording to Torque News:

This past weekend, 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat owner Ricci Cavallaro took his stock Mopar muscle car to Pittsburgh Raceway Park for the first time and with nothing more than Nitto NT05 tires, his first run down the track was an incredible 10.97 at 129 miles per hour. Then, he followed it up with two more runs in the 10 second range.

Long-time Mopar fan Cavallaro—who is not a professional driver—took his new supercharged muscle car to PRP, taking advantage of the good weather and a well-prepped track, and it paid off better than anyone could’ve predicted.

That’s insane, especially for a mostly unmodified vehicle!

Check out the full story on this spectacular SRT at Torque News.

Watch Ricci’s first incredible 1/4 mile pass here:

Top Rally Racing Cars You Can Drive Every Day

Rally Racing pictureOur resident Gearhead reminisces on the timeless art of Rally Car Racing and shares his wisdom on three vehicles that fit the bill today—on or off the track.

 

If you know me, you know I’m all about American muscle. But I do occasionally make an exception, and rally cars are one overseas product that can definitely get my blood pumping. Growing up in rural America, I first learned to drift a car on all those local dirt roads to nowhere, and that’s what rally racing is — getting sideways on slippery tracks through the wilderness, as fast as your sense of self-preservation will permit. So naturally I’ve always been drawn to the World Rally Championship (WRC), which started as a mainly European thing but has since risen to prominence almost everywhere except the U.S.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure why there’s not more professional rallying on our shores. We’ve got more land than just about anyone, after all, and that includes countless mountain and desert tracks that would be perfect for rally stages. But for whatever reason, it’s never really been an American thing to do, so the only way most of us can experience the thrill of a rally car is by driving one of the few rally-derived models available in U.S. dealerships. Today I want to tell you about the three such models that I’d most like to have in my garage.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution photo
Popularly known as the “Evo,” Mitsubishi’s turbocharged, all-wheel-drive compact sedan is actually on its last legs with an uncertain future, I’m sad to report. Mitsubishi has officially announced that there will be no Evo after 2015, though a lot of diehard fans refuse to believe that the company would just kill off its most iconic nameplate. Whatever happens, the current Evo will go down in history as one of the most capable four-door cars ever built, and not only because of its deep roots in rally-racing history. The boosted 291-horsepower engine under the hood is just the beginning; this Mitsu also comes with a telepathic all-wheel-drive system that shifts all that power side-to-side during hard cornering, effectively eliminating understeer. Additionally, its dual-clutch automated manual transmission is one of the best, ripping off instantaneous upshifts and flawless rev-matched downshifts that no human could ever match. Bottom line? Mitsubishi nailed everything with this car, and I feel like a WRC champion every time I drive it. It’ll be a damn shame if they let the transcendent Evo go out with a whimper.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI photo
The top-of-the-line WRX is known as the STI, and it’s the closest you can get to Subaru’s legendary WRC race cars. It’s also all-new for 2015, and I was lucky enough to get the keys for a full day recently. As ever, the six-speed manual gearbox — no automated manual here — is a work of art, with short, precise throws and perfectly placed pedals for heel-toe downshifts. The steering feels heavier than before, in a good way, and it’s razor-sharp, with none of the on-center slop you expect in an all-wheel-drive car. Another thing Subaru has improved is the STI’s body control: the previous generation heeled over in corners like a sailboat, but the new model stays nice and flat, as a performance car should. If I had one of these bad boys, the only thing I’d modify the hell out of is the engine, because it basically hasn’t changed in 10 years. Sure, 305 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four is nothing to sneeze at, but I expect progress after all that time. Crank up the boost and give me 400 horses, now we’re talking. Otherwise, I would gladly drive one of these Subies every day. It would be an honor to be just a few production tweaks removed from Subaru’s WRC glory.

Ford Fiesta ST

2015 Ford Fiesta ST photo
The subcompact Fiesta comes only with front-wheel drive, so you might not make the rally-car connection right away. But there’s a rich history of Fiesta rally cars dating back at least to the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally, when a couple extensively modified Fiestas braved the icy conditions and achieved respectable results. Since then, numerous Ford rally cars have worn the Fiesta badge, most recently the Fiesta R5 with its all-wheel-drive layout and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor. Swap out the AWD system for front-wheel drive, add a few creature comforts and voila — you’ve got the showroom-ready Ford Fiesta ST. Rated at 197 horsepower, the flyweight Fiesta ST has plenty of punch, and it’s also an ace in tight corners thanks to a brake-based electronic limited slip differential. You can even get a pair of Recaro sport seats that are more or less full-on racing seats in disguise. Throw in the MyFord Touch infotainment system and you’ve got a fully equipped daily driver that just so happens to be a terror on the racetrack, too. For the price — the 2015 model starts at just over $22,000 — the Fiesta ST might be the ultimate road-going rally car, absent AWD system notwithstanding.

What’s Your Practical Rally Car?

Tell me about your daily-driver rally ride in the comments, won’t you? As long as it’s got a sporting chassis and some kind of racing heritage, it’s fair game in my book.

Editor’s note: Rally racing or not, treat your ride right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.