It was a relief this week to talk with racers in the twilight of championship runs without hearing animosity or anger directed toward another driver.
No worries about one driver crashing out another to settle a feud and ruin a season. No allegations of cheating.
“I don’t know why they do what they do in NASCAR,” drag racing champion John Force said. “But I know in this (drag racing) world, I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I just can’t seem to find the hate they seem to find in NASCAR.”
Nothing but love in the NHRA pits.
Granted, trading paint isn’t part of the drag racing experience, and a few straight-line racers have had their run-ins, though verbal and not physical.
Force had a toe-to-toe quarrel with fellow Funny Car driver Tony Pedregon last year, but within a few weeks they were hugging each other.
Although Larry Dixon is battling Cory McClenathan for this year’s Top Fuel title and Matt Hagan is trying to hold off Force for the Funny Car championship, during a teleconference with the foursome this week there was nothing but mutual respect, friendship and a bond melded by nitromethane at 300 mph.
They enjoyed talking about their competitors leading to the penultimate NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series race, set for next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It’s nice not to worry about reporting on intentional takeout crashes, snipes at fellow competitors, or which driver gets booed the most.
Let’s face it: Drag racing is a lovefest nearly all the time.
Dixon has won 12 titles this year and is on the cusp of ending Tony Schumacher’s six-year run as the Top Fuel champion. So what did Dixon do last week? He went to lunch with longtime friend McClenathan, who is second to Dixon in points and Schumacher’s teammate.
“I’m storing (a car) at one of Larry’s shops,” McClenathan said, “so it was kind of like one of those, ‘Hey, I’m going to bring the car over and drop it off. While we’re at it, let’s catch up and go to lunch.’ ”
And Dixon picked up the check.
In Funny Car, there couldn’t have been more love shared between 14-time series champion Force and Hagan, who leads Force by four points with two events left.
Force said he has on display in his museum a helmet given to him by Hagan, a rancher and farmer. The headgear has bull horns and the name of Hagan’s sponsor, Diehard, on it. It is probably the only product reference in Force’s shop he wasn’t paid for.
The two are so close that Force even knows Hagan’s wife, Rachel, plays the piano.
In the first round of a Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event two weeks ago, a part failure ended Force’s day in the first round. Hagan advanced to the finals and passed the veteran for the points lead.
“He ran over to me at the end of the track and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry,” Force recalled. “I didn’t want to see it happen this way.’ I liked his attitude.”
There’s something about drag racing. Maybe the nitro in the air works as an aphrodisiac.
And maybe there’s too much testosterone in the air in NASCAR.
Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.