The 57th Annual NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, which continus today through Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway in Hendricks County, serves as its sport’s National Championship that challenges the best drivers and teams who all want to win their most prestigious event. When you consider a ticket to the event also serves as a pit pass allowing fans to mingle just a few feet from their favorite drivers and cars, a day at the track turns into a moment to remember.
In a region that boasts the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, traditional race fans can often overlook the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, which as I learned this week, is a big mistake.
For those new to the drag racing scene like me, the sport’s biggest event brings a combination of racing professionals, high-speed cars, frenzied fans and a flurry of indescribable sights, sounds and smells.
This year’s U.S. Nationals officially kicked off Wednesday with the annual press conference highlighting four of the series top drivers – Larry Dixon, Doug Kalitta, Morgan Lucas and Mike Neff. Activity at the track also started today though the professionals don’t start qualifying until Friday.
“When you judge our careers, the media and everyone else first looks at your wins here and then how many championships you have,” said Dixon, a four-time U.S. Nationals Top Fuel champion. “This place stirs a passion within each of us. It can bring tears to your eyes, win or lose.”
Dixon fell in the love with the race and area so much that he moved his family here permanently in 1999 buying a house in Avon. When he isn’t racing, Dixon has given up some of his previous hobbies like racquetball and mountain biking to be a full-time dad and husband. His three children, ages 10, 8 and 5, get his full attention when he isn’t racing.
“We chose Avon for the schools and the close proximity to the airport, then all the race teams started moving into Brownsburg, and that became an added bonus,” he said.
Dixon said his three favorite local restaurants include Charbonos in Avon where he never leaves without getting a slice of margarita pizza, Stone Creek Dining Company in Plainfield and Tegry Bistro in Brownsburg and their orange or cherry blossom rolls that he claims to be the best anywhere nationwide.
Food, however, will take a back seat this weekend as he focuses his attention on providing the best show possible for the many fans headed here.
Nearly every race team will host open houses and benefits this week despite their busy schedules, such as the John Force Racing Summer Car Show open house and barbecue from 3 to 7 p.m. today at 498 Southpointe Circle, Brownsburg. The event will include hot rods, giveaways, meet the driver opportunities and free shop tours.
In addition to activities at the shops and track, John Force also ramped up his efforts to promote the sport through two new kiosks that opened earlier this week at the Indianapolis International Airport. As visitors arrive at the airport, two of Force’s Ford Mustang funny cars will greet them.
Dennis Jordan of Indianapolis noticed one of the cars while dropping his daughter off at Indianapolis International Airport’s Civic Plaza Tuesday and couldn’t help but be drawn to it.
“Drag racing to me deserves more exposure, so this is just a great idea to have them here as visitors arrive,” he said. “To get to be up close and see the workmanship is pretty cool.”
The two Ford Mustang funny cars out of the John Force Racing stable will remain at the airport in prominent locations – in Civic Plaza and baggage claim – through the Labor Day weekend. Numerous people arriving at the airport have taken advantage of the unique opportunity by stopping for pictures, signing up for a contest giveaway or simply marveling at the cars.
“Wow,” shouted one young boy as he approached Force’s green Castrol GTX funny car. “Look at that.”
His words perfectly summed up my experience this week during my first Nationals. For those who have never gone but have always considered it, what better time than now? Considering the magnitude of the event, tickets remain affordable especially for families as children 12 and under get in free. For more information or to purchase tickets, go online to nhratix.com