Drag racing is certainly a world of speed! No matter what class, a drag racer is a super fast machine, with a massive engine that propels it over a quarter-mile as quickly as possible. And while the machinery is crucial - you're not going to win a drag race in a Volkswagen Beetle - the men and women in the cockpit are just as important. Not only do they have to have nerves of steel, their reaction times can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing in a world where hundredths and even thousandths of a second count!
The sport of drag racing actually originated in California in the 1930s. Hot summers made the dry lake beds the ideal place for racers to test their cars and engines against each other. After the Second World War, racing got a lot more serious and eventually, formal competition started happening all over the United States as racers found ways to get even more power and speed out of the normal engines of the day. In 1951, Wally Parks founded the National Hot Rod Association and everything exploded from there. Today, drag racing is big business and many heroes have been born out on the quarter-mile.
But can you identify them, those from yesteryear and modern day drivers? Good luck!
A three time Top Fuel champion, Antron Brown won the title in 2012, 2015 and 2016. He current has 50 victories to his name.
An 8 times NHRA champion, Tony Schumacher has an incredible 83 wins to his name in drag racing on the NHRA circuit!
'Big Daddy' John Garlits is one of the most well-known names in drag racing. Garlits is responsible for the rear-engined dragster design we know today and is considered the father of the sport. Garlits won a total of 17 world championships.
A 16-time Funny Car champion, John Force is also a top winning owner with his vehicles claiming 20 championships. All in all, Force won 149 races. 'Brute' Force once won ten straight NHRA championships in a row!
'Wild Willie' Borsch was yet another character to grace the sport of drag racing. He was fondly known for driving his car one-handed, while the other sat outside the roll cage stretched along the body of the car! It wasn't showmanship, however, he was just too big for the seat of the car!
With 73 wins, 68 of them racing Funny Cars, Pat Austin is one of the most successful drag racers ever to hit the tarmac. He also won four national championship titles.
The first Funny Car driver to ever pass 250 mph, Don Prudhomme was known as 'The Snake'. He won 4 championships in his career but also brought the first marketing elements into the sport, securing a massive sponsorship with Mattel and their Hot Wheels franchise.
The 'First Lady of Drag Racing', Shirley Muldowney won three Top Fuel Dragster championship titles in the late '70s and early '80s. She was the first woman to be given a Top Fuel dragster racing license and is considered a pioneer in the sport.
Bob Glidden won 10 Winston Cup championships in his career, including five titles in a row from 1985 to 1989. Not only that, but in 1979 he won nine nationals in a row and in 1987 qualified in first place at all 14 events that year.
'The King of Speed', Kenny Bernstein was the first drag racer to crash through the 300 mph mark in the quarter-mile. He also had an ongoing sponsorship with Budweiser that lasted for over 30 years, the longest sponsorship in the sport.
At the age of 75, Warren Johnson still competes in drag racing. He is the driver with the most wins in Pro Stock (75) and he has six championship victories to his name. He is known as 'The Professor of Pro Stock'.
The man who brought motorcycle drag racing to the fore, Terry Vance won many races and did everything to promote the sport. He was a 14-time champion!
Not only has Gary Scelzi won the NHRA Top Fuel championship on three occasions, he also won the 2005 Funny Car championship as well.
Together with Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme, 'The Mongoose' as Tom McEwen was known did much to increase the exposure for drag racing in the 1960s and 1970s. The pair secured drag racing's first big sponsorship through Mattel, and their 'Hot Wheels' cars were an attraction all over the United States. Maybe not the most successful drag racer (he only won 5 events overall), McEwen did much to promote the sport, however.
'Jungle Jim' Liberman was one of drag racing's first successful showmen. Know for reversing at 100 mph after completing a burnout, Liberman was pure entertainment on the drag racing circuit. He was more of a match racer than one who participated in NHRA events, although he did secure one victory in 1975.
Know for his 'Blue Max' Funny Car, Raymond Beadle won three NHRA championships in the late '70's and early '80s as well as three IHRA championships. He was also a NASCAR owner from 1983 to 1990, winning the championship in 1989 with Rusty Wallace driving.
Joe Amato scored 52 drag race victories over the course of his career along with 5 NHRA Top Fuel championships. He was also the first to take his car through the 260 and 280 mph barrier in competition setup.
'The Bounty Hunter', Conrad 'Connie' Kalitta started out his drag racing career teaming up with Shirley Muldowney. Kalitta won 9 NHRA nationals over the course of his career and also was the first driver to race over 200 mph at an officially sanctioned NHRA event.
One of the pioneers of drag racing, Jack Chrisman raced for from 1953 to 1972 and was crowned champion for the 1961 season. Chrisman helped introduce the Funny Car class to the sport.
An NHRA Top Alcohol dragster legend, Blaine Johnson won that class championship for four years in a row from 1990 to 1993. He moved to the prestigious Top Fuel class but died in a crash in 1996, the first fatality since 1971.
One of the most successful sportsman drivers in drag racing history, Edmond Richardson won 46 national events along with multiple championships.
Not only was Tommy Ivo a pioneer drag racer, but a Hollywood actor as well. He was involved in the early years of the sport. In the '50's his twin-engined Buick became the first dragster to cross the 160, 170 and 180 mph barriers. His Hollywood star power also brought the sport into the limelight.
Nicknamed 'The Grump', Bill Jenkins gained 13 NHRA wins during his career, most in manual shift vehicles. Although those wins are far less than other greats of the sport, Jenkins excelled in engine setup and is fondly remembered for that.
Like Bill Jenkins, Dale Armstrong didn't boast as many NHRA wins as some of his other counterparts but was certainly known for his ability to set up both a dragster and its engine. After his career, Armstrong was the brains behind Kenny Berstein winning the Top Fuel Championship in 1996. This made him the only driver to win both the Top Fuel and Funny Car championship.
Not only was Mickey Thompson a great drag racer, but he is credited with the design of the first slingshot dragster. An innovator, Thompson held over 200 lands speed records during his career and once drove a FOUR-engined Challenger 1 to over 400 mph in 1960.
Lee Shepherd was a formidable drag racer in the 1980s whose career was cut short tragically in a testing accident in 1985. He had the Winston Championship for four straight years before that, from 1981 to 1984. His career saw him reach 43 of 56 NHRA national events, claiming 26 wins. He also was the first driver to win the NHRA and HRA Pro Stock Championship in 1983.
A two-time champion, Gary Beck won 19 Top Fuel events during his career. His greatest achievement came in 1983 when he recorded 17 of the 18 ever fastest Top Fuel dragster times.
An innovator, Gene Snow raced on the drag circuit for three decades up until the 1980s. He pioneered direct drive systems in his vehicle, which others later caught on to.
Jim Dunn raced about every type of drag racer that was available and won in every single class. Dunn raced from 1953 to 1991, at which point he became one of the top tuners in the business.
George Montgomery, know as 'Ohio George,' won the NHRA gas title on seven occasions. These machines essentially evolved into Funny Car and Pro Stock cars.
James Warren was part of a formidable trio along with Roger Coburn and Marvin Miller, his crewmen. In the 1960s, Warren won numerous drag racing events.
Darrel Gwynn's considerable drag racing career was cut short by an accident in England in 1990 that left him paralyzed. Up until that point, over a 10-year period, he had won 28 NHRA national events.
Dick LaHaie was crowned NHRA Top Fuel champion in 1987 and went on to crew Scott Kalitta championship runs in 1994 and 1995.
Eddie Hill won 12 national titles during his drag racing career which was broken into two stints - 1963 to 1966 and 1985 to 1999. In 1960, 'Fast Eddie' set an incredible record. He broke the quarter-mile time by half a second, bring it down from 9.40 to 8.84. In 1993, Hill was the oldest competitor ever to be crowned Top Fuel champion.
Regularly called the best ever driver to race four-speed dragsters, Ronnie Sox won five NHRA championships in the 1960s and 1970s. Sox certainly was the king of power shifting.
One of the early stars of match racing in the 1960s, before there were many NHRA events, 'Dynamo' Don Nicholson got his nickname as used a dynamo on his dash while racing. Nicholson went on to win the Pro Stock championship in 1977.
Ed McCulloch started out racing Top Fuel racers in the 1960s, moving onto Funny Cars in 1969. In fact, in his first Funny Car event, he won. He went on to claim 22 NHRA events in total during his career.
A much-loved drag racer, Pete Robinson died after a crash in 1971. Ever the gentleman, Robinson won three NHRA national events. Robinson was known to make his cars as light as possible, even grinding away metal from the engine block to do so.
One of drag racing's early pioneers, Art Chrisman started out racing his family Ford sedan! Later, his famed #25 dragster was the car the crowds wanted to see. Interestingly, it was from the 1930s and no set model, put together from different parts. Chrisman acquired the car in a trade for his motorcycle!
Although he can't claim any national titles, Chris Karmesines is in the NHRA Hall of Fame! That is mostly thanks to his mad cap style, always giving 110% And the crowds loved it! Before railing was used on the side of tracks, Karamesines would often go off course, only to come back to the track and win the race! What's not to love about that?