The sun begins to sink below the grandstands giving the sky a unique pink tint as the last few racers back their speed machines off of the trailers. The couple hundred trailers in the pits would soon be accompanied by over 1,500 show cars and countless spectators. It is Friday evening before a massive joint event at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Two southern California iconic companies, In-N-Out Burger and Hot Rod Magazine, have come together to celebrate their shared 70th anniversary. There was an open dragstrip for registered racers, a massive display of show cars, In-N-Out Burger trucks, dozens of vendors, Hot Rod Magazine cover cars of the past, and celebrity meet and greets.
Being a car enthusiast and gearhead with very limited experience in racing culture, I wanted to break into the scene and find out what it takes to become a part of this community. This event served as the perfect opportunity for me to learn through the process and reflection of doing.
Pulling into the pits where the racers set up their camps to have space to work on their cars before and in-between races was an intimidating experience. Cars louder than a thunderstorm were backing out of their enclosed trailers accompanied by crews of multiple people as I pulled in with my car on a rented U-Haul trailer with just me and my father.
There were no friendly neighborhood greetings from those around us, just a couple staredowns and head nods. The nerves and fear of judgment came on strong that night and carried well into Saturday morning. When it came time to line up for the race, I was so anxious it was difficult to enjoy the event and talk to those around me.
Though I had six months to ready myself and my car for just a fourteen-second race, I felt extremely uneasy. There is nothing that anyone could have told me to prepare me mentally for pulling up to the starting line.
Watch the 360-degree virtual reality video below and I will walk you through the experience first-hand.
Ride shotgun with me at 100 mph down the dragstrip starting at one minute into the video.
After the race was over and I was driving down the return lane passing the crowd in the grandstands, all my anxiety and adrenaline turned into serotonin, or whatever that chemical is that just brings you pure happiness and bliss.
At this point, I returned to the pits and something extraordinary happened. I realized that those around me were not all that intimidating. It was my nerves that kept me shielded and perhaps unapproachable. With my new found confidence and excitement, I began to wander through the event talking to racers, car enthusiasts, and racing celebrities alike to gather some invaluable conversations and experiences.
After this enlightening discussion with Justin and his Grandpa, we decided to head out for one final race before the event ended.
It may not seem as fast from an outside perspective, but going from zero to 100 mph in 13 seconds is an intense adrenaline rush.
Though the late model Challenger beat my Mustang by .3 seconds, I had run my fastest time ever and impressed myself that my self-built car was capable of what it accomplished.
This is a time slip. At the bottom there is the E.T., or elapsed time, followed by MPH which is how fast you were going at the quarter mile mark. Justin is on the left and I am on the right.
It became clear to me after these encounters at Pomona that the myth of needing popularity and really expensive cars to break into the racing culture was completely self-fabricated. This culture is actually very welcoming of newcomers.
Racing is a sport that encourages equal participation. Most sports split up among cities, states, countries, genders, ect., but racing is racing regardless of who gets behind the wheel. I cannot say this as a universal statement, but for this one weekend spent in Pomona, it appeared to me that the racing culture is blind to the many forms of discrimination that plague other activities.
I think Shauna explained car culture perfectly with just the two words, “common appreciation.”
We come from so many different backgrounds with different perspectives, values, approaches, and tastes when it comes to cars. Some people are like Gary Szabo. A simple man by nature with a cool old car, a big motor, and an insanely good reaction time.
Then you have Justin Harrison, a young guy full of excitement inspired by his grandfather’s stories and past accomplishments. He’s a guy who will find every possible modification offered to his car to improve his performance.
I even know a lot of people like myself, working those extra shifts for the overtime to afford your next car part and spending late nights after college in the garage torquing down some head bolts instead of going out to party with friends.
Shauna completely tore apart her perfectly running and driving 1966 Mustang in a barn in order to build it into a racecar packed with the latest modern technologies.
Everything we do comes down to events like this one in Pomona. We set out to reach that adrenaline rush, accomplish our goals, be better and faster than we were before, and revel in the company of so many fascinating people and their equally captivating cars.