Drag Illustrated Issue 111, July 2016 | Page 100

DR AG I LLU S TR ATED ROUN DTABLE Can Radial Racing Keep Traction? Leaders of the radial racing revolution discuss the turbulent past and uncertain future of drag racing’s most popular, exciting and fastest-growing eliminator BY AIN S L EY JACO B S R adia l tire-b a sed dra g ra c in g h a s d ev elo p ed a cult-like following and the niche community that surrounds the small tire world has grown to epic proportions. Today, radial racing is stronger than ever, but that’s mostly due to the efforts of a handful of diehard individuals relentless in their pursuit of seeing the eighthmile format of the sport continue to manifest into something larger. Arguably the most well-known driving force behind radial racing’s popularity is Donald “Duck” Long, a Florida-based event promoter who has been instrumental in getting “radials only” racing recognized beyond its own tight-knit community. Where once they raced in obscurity or as an afterthought in some other promoter’s event, thanks to Long’s belief, classes like Radial vs the World, Pro Drag Radial and Outlaw Drag Radial have become commonplace. John Sears, founder of the infamous X275 drag radial series, agrees that Long has been a key player in the growth and popularity of radial tire racing. “People were looking for something different in heads-up racing,” Sears notes. “With the introduction of Donald’s first races in Florida, and his subsequent events in Georgia, the word spread. Donald’s ability to create controversy between slick tire guys and radial tire guys was huge. He struck while there was a need, and it took off.” Sears himself, however, can also be credited with helping small tire racing to gain more mainstream recognition. The groundwork for what is 100 | D r a g I l l u s t r a t e d | DragIllustrated.com today’s wildly popular X275 class was first laid in 2008 and Sears has been there every step of the way to ensure class rules encourage equal, fair and competitive racing. What started off strong in its infancy has exploded into an unstoppable machine in recent years, but Long believes technology has been “It’s the characters behind the racing that make the radial guys stand out, and that’s something that’s missing elsewhere in racing,” Long realizes. the main factor there. “I think the (online) live feed stuff has made radial racing a lot bigger. People can watch from anywhere,” he says. “We try to maintain the integrity of the racing but also understand people want entertainment. It’s the characters behind the racing that make the radial guys stand out, and that’s something that’s missing elsewhere in racing.” Loved—or hated—for his ability to fill classes with unprecedented car counts and stands with thousands of spectators, Long’s reputation as a radial racing promoter extraordinaire has prompted many others to attempt the same. What began with just a handful of stand-alone events, however, has morphed into events being staged practically every weekend throughout the summer and fall, plus a dedicated radial-specific series. Regardless of the copycats, Long interprets the trend as a sign of strength for radial racing. “As much as I make fun of other guys piggybacking, they really do bring a lot of value to the sport,” he adds with a laugh. Along with Rodney Whatley, Gene Nicodemus, owner of North Star Dragway in Denton, Texas, founded the Radial Tire Racing Association (RTRA) to bring credibility and stability to the sport of radial tire drag racing. The RTRA ran its inaugural season in 2015 and featured classes such as X275, Limited 275 and Pro Drag Radial. “I think the real instigator for radial’s popularity was that everything used to be about big tires, then it went to the 10.5 slick, and, as everything always does, that plateaued,” Nicodemus says. Track prep, too, has been a contributing factor to the success of radial tire racing’s growth. “A lot of people didn’t understand how to prep a track for radials. There’s a lot of knowledge that goes into radial prep, it’s not just throwing something on the ground and hoping it sticks,” says Nicodemus, who prides himself on having the best—and safest—surface possible at his track, regardless of weather or air conditions. Lately, more tracks are getting on board with proper prep programs, meaning there are more facilities nationwide where radial racers can truly show their stuff. Some believe, however, that this actually waters down radial racing as a whole. Issue 111