I knew working at Lights Out 8 was going to be something. I knew it was going to be crazy. I knew it was going to be long days and very short nights, but even I could not conceive of what I would see or do during a five day stint at the most insane and wild small tire drag race on planet Earth. I have been involved with the IHRA, NHRA, NMCA, and a load of independent events over the course of about 20 years active in the sport of drag racing and this one was completely different from any of that stuff. From the moment I walked into the track to the moment I ran for my life on Sunday night there was an energy and an electricity you could feel throughout the place.
South Georgia Motorsports Park is a great track with an awesome surface. It ain’t the biggest place in the world but it is home to Lights Out and No Mercy, a home that is comfortable and cozy like the one you may be reading this column from now.
It was mind boggling to see how many people were at the track on Wednesday night to watch Radial vs The World Qualifying and then the crowd just grew from there. Despite some rain delays on Saturday we got the program in and every inch of the place was loaded to the gunwales with people. On one side of the track there was so much “friendly wagering” going on that it looked like the New York Stock Exchange. Duck X Productions sells a VIP ticket that allows access to sets of trackside grandstands and the “arc” in the middle of the track that provides an elevated holding pen for people who need to be in the center of the action. That was jammed full from start to finish. I have been in a couple of tracks that were absolutely filled to capacity in my life and they have have the same kind of weird/exciting/scary energy. It is like watching a monkey hold a hand grenade. So long as he doesn’t pull the pin out, it is kind of entertaining. Thankfully the pin stayed in at SGMP and there was no reason to believe that it wouldn’t but there’s also that underlying sense of, “If this gets weird….”
Having read the stories of the wild Super Stock Nationals from back in the middle 1960s and lamenting not being there, I can only imagine that these races are the modern equivalent right down to the crowded starting line. The evolution of design and performance in this style of racing is reminiscent of the funny car category in the 1965-1967 time frame well. It is freaking beyond description.
I had never worked with Lee Sebring before. Lee’s a fine announcer and a great guy. We hit it off like peas in a pod and proceeded to have a blast all weekend long. We were both completely smoked by Saturday. Because of the anticipated crowd I was getting to the track every morning early and a couple of the days were 18 hours on the property before being able to run for the rental car and a bed. That’s not a complaint, that’s a fact. I’d do it again tomorrow if they were racing and do it with a smile on my face. Lee and I share a sarcastic sense of humor and between the chops busting on the microphone and the true gold that we did not send over the airwaves, we spent a lot of time laughing. Lee’s a PDRA man and we both split some of the NMCA/NMRA dates. A good egg and a talented guy.
There’s more and more crossover happening in this world of small tire racing than ever before. Scotty Cannon, Kevin Fiscus (who ultimately did start here and the go to Pro Mod, but you get it), Phil Shuler, Todd Tutterow, Alan Pittman, John Pluchino, Bill Banaka, Rick and Rickie Jones, among others compete in both traditional series and these small tire events as well. You then have the “as seen on TV” crowd that is more and more track racing (with the clocks on…gasp!) and doing it well. Dave Comstock was a number one qualifier in his class and without a red light would have likely mopped the whole field up. Kye Kelley did not have the smoothest of weekends in the Shocker but he has a new car on the way designed to compete in the radial realm. Guys like “Little Country” Justin Swanstrom have climbed out of the grudge and no-time world to kick ass in class racing. He and his dad run the Apocalypse Mustang and also took home a win at Lights Out 8.
Why mention all of this? I mention all of this because this is an event that should appeal to just about every drag racer on planet Earth. There’s index competition for those of the sportsman minded variety and the Radial vs The World cars are among the most wide open in the sport. With no real limits on anything aside from the tire and safety requirements you see more creativity and diversity than anywhere else in drag racing. This is not about being the biggest spender either. Ask Tim Slavens about that. Guy had a stock wheelbase Camaro and made it to the semi-finals in Radial vs The World! Nova Joe Albrecht who won the whole thing is like 27-years old and has a car that’s at the top of the world right now.
World records were set in multiple categories, new cars were debuted, and old cars were reborn with either fresh looks, fresh power, or fresh performances. There were guys literally building cars in the parking lot early in the week to be ready for qualifying later on. It was unlike anything I have ever seen.
If you get hung up on how many people are standing on the starting line and miss the rest of the awesomeness that is happening here, that’s your problem. Is it a great idea to be out there packed in like sardines? I would be an idiot to argue that it is. Is the argument that nothing has happened so far a good one? Hell no it is not. Should it be “fixed”? Probably but that’s not my job nor is it my concern. Duck has made this thing and that’s his call.
Oh, speaking of Duck (Donald Long). He was majorly welcoming to me as a new guy at his race and I am not sure I have ever seen a race promotor work so hard or end up so spent at the end of an event. He would take couple hour sleep breaks at the hotel and then be back on the gate or in the pits by 2-3am. He had a personal interest in every element of pulling this race off and making it as smooth and successful as possible. The man is obsessed with making sure the racers are treated correctly. That does not mean that they are given special favors or whatnot, just that they have a fair shot to do what they need to do. Again, all stuff that people have talked about but to see it in person is a different deal altogether.
Lots of people try to make this race a pivot point in the argument between traditional and “outlaw” style drag racing which is idiotic. It is idiotic because so many people from both the traditional and outlaw world now spend time on both sides of the fence that the line between what those two worlds are is now more blurred than ever. That’s the best part of the whole thing to me. The quicker we all figure out that we’re in the same large boat the better off we’ll be. That does not mean everyone holds hands and sings songs, that means a large, unified front of diversified competitors who respect the hard work put in by everyone.
In the end Duck’s legacy in the sport is going to be a lot bigger than his awesome promotion ability and a couple of races a year. What he has built and fostered is much, much larger than that. Just you wait and see.
I can’t say how much fun I had at Lights Out 8. Having tried and failed to make it to a Duck race more than a few times, we finally made it. I was like a kid in a candy shop when we pulled in Thursday evening, all the way to standing on the line for the RVW finals Sunday night (No matter how exhausted I was). We may have gone out first round in OC, but we did get the $200 bucks for first perfect light, and that was good enough for me. Plus, we got to hang out and watch the rest of the race. Ive got no complaints about the setup of this place. It may be inconveniently small, there may be no golf cart parking, but its a throwback, and that’s what they want. Taking this race to a massive NHRA track would ruin it in a second. There may have been no seating room, a whole lot of alcohol consumed, and a massive fight right next to me, but that’s what used to happen, and it’s what happens here, and Im good with that. The cars are amazing, classes, drama, everything. Ive always said that you and Lee are the two greatest announcers anywhere, so it was amazing to listen to you guys together. You both rocked it. Now to count the days to No Mercy.
Could you enlighten those of us who don’t know what that last picture is?
Paul, that is a reverse rotator tire drag. As the tractor goes down the track the tires rotate in reverse to lay down rubber on the track and provide a good surface for traction. Think of it as a drag strip zamboni.
What’s unique there is that it has drag radials on it instead of slicks.
I had a blast there too, even though I was manning a midway booth most of the time and only got to see a fraction of the races. Our crew rented a motorhome for the occasion – a bit pricier than an offsite hotel, but it was nice not to have to leave the track for a hotel room and to be able to shower there.
Seems Lights Out attracts more big money sponsors than No Mercy. We’re wondering how many others will bring scissor lifts next time. 😀
That race looks like a lot of fun and I tried to get to no mercy last year. Question to the above people that went: was the amount of time spent on track prep as painful to sit through at the track as it was at home on the live feed? Is camping at the track the best way to go? If you stay at a hotel, what time would you have to get to the track at Friday – Saturday?
Yeah, the track prep was annoying – but as a rep at the manufacturer’s midway, I generally just got back to the booth when that was happening (NOBODY wanted to be anywhere but in the stands when Radial vs the World was running, so I was often watching the racing myself then). On the other hand, nobody wants inadequate prep when you’re running cars that crazy. I think some stricter oil down penalties might help reduce how many times they had to bring out the cleaning crew.
I camped at the track and that worked great for me, but the races generally don’t get started until 9 AM, later if it’s too cold or rainy. And what starts off the morning may be one of the slower classes. So you’ve got a reasonable amount of time to make it to the track if you’re just there to watch and not there in a professional capacity.
The first couple nights were TERRIBLE. The next morning, after not finishing the schedule, Duck was pretty angry. I think he told them to get their act together, and they were a lot more manageable for the rest of the weekend. It seems to me that a lot of cars don’t run diapers, and THAT NEEDS TO CHANGE. As for camping, it is definitely more convenient to camp on site, though as a racer who pulled in Thursday evening and took us a half hour to find a spot, all the way behind the circle track (glad we have a golf cart), it was annoying to see all the campers with no race cars who had taken up spots reserved for race cars. There is an entire field reserved for camping only (that was not full), but they all wanted better spots, so they took up race car spots. As for getting to the track, it depends on the schedule, and remember, you can check the live feed to see if they are racing. They generally start with the sportsman classes.
Don’t usually make a lot of comments but here goes. Finally made it to Thursday racing. It was what I described as a bucket list thing for me. It was a spectacle that I’m glad I got to witness. The atmosphere was different than any race I have attended. The “what’s gonna happen next” factor is exciting. Being an old guy, I only planned for Thursday because of the legendary difficulty of access and egress. I had to drive 4.5 hours each way so I believe the motor home over night would be the best way to experience the totality of the event. I walked the grounds over and over, took in everything I could and sat in many spots in the grandstands. I noticed above, Brian, where you addressed the starting line issue. Honestly, that was disappointing. Even in the afternoon of Thursday, I made the comment to the person beside me in the grandstands “I know there are cars out there, I can hear them”. Cars appear from a clump of people trailing smoke and back into a crowd of people and only appear again after the lights have come down. That was a little disappointing but part of the uniqueness. As for the announcing – great job. You guys did work off each other well and there was a genuine sense of enthusiasm for what was going on. When I first walked in the place I saw Lee and shook his hand. Have heard him many times and enjoy the announcing. Hope to hear him this weekend at Orlando. P.S. Bangshift rocks.
I hope to make it to this race in the next few years since watching it on the small screen don’t do justice. Went to my first small tire race a few years back which was the Yellowbullet Nationals and can tell you this is the best style of racing in years.