DR AG I LLU S TR ATED ROUN DTABLE
Can Radial Racing
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
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
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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.