Frank Hawley's NHRA Drag Racing School Experience - Licensed For Thrill!
Competition Legal With Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School
From the September, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Henry De Los Santos
Photography by Summer Geer
If you're into drag racing and constantly looking for ways to whittle down your e.t., then you know at some point you're going to need your NHRA competition license. The fact is once you enter the 9.99 zone or go faster than 135 mph in the quarter-mile, you need a piece of paper that says you can legally do so. You have a couple of options to obtain your license: You can run down the tarmac in your own ride or you can enter a driving school. I opted for the latter by enrolling in Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School (FHDRS).
Why did I decide to head back to school? The very first race I entered was back in 2002 in a power-adder class, requiring stock-style suspension and limiting just about everything imaginable, from the type of camshaft to the tires. At that time the top guys were just dipping into the 9s, with the rest of the field scattered all over the 10-second range. I had a completely new combination and chassis, and didn't have seat time for several years. We got the car together at the last minute, stuck it on the chassis dyno, and loaded up the car for the eight-hour tow to Arizona.
Looking back, it feels a bit irresponsible to run an untested car, but at the time I wasn't going to miss that event. Even worse was knowing that if all went well, there was a good chance of dipping into the 9s. Again, looking back, not the smartest thing to do, especially considering that the only seat time I'd had was in an upper-11-second street car. To some it may not seem like a big deal, but the difference between 120 and 140 mph in the quarter-mile is pretty big.
Class starts bright and early...
Class starts bright and early at 7:30 a.m. From the moment you step in, it's all about intros. Our room for the next two days was in the tower with a great view overlooking the entire dragstrip.
To make a long story short, everything went well and the first pass netted me with a 10.08-at-139-mph run. It felt great, and the initial 1.51 short time was a kick in the pants, only I was told by the track officials to back it down since I didn't have my NHRA competition license. This car eventually ran in the mid-8s with a buddy's motor, but with my dwindling free time, I bowed out of the driver's seat and the car evolved rather quickly without me. I knew I had no business trying to pilot it without a license.
Fast-forward to today. With our 10.5 tire-packing third-gen Camaro in its initial building phases, there's never been a better time to dust off the driving suit and get back in the saddle.
When I started asking around about driving schools, the name that kept coming up was Frank Hawley. While FHDRS is based out of Gainesville, Florida, it also offers a complete schedule of remote classes for its Super Gas Firebird door car and Super Comp dragster program at various tracks across the county. In this case there was a program being offered at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, only an hour away by plane. Even cooler, Frank Hawley himself was to be our instructor.
The school tends to get booked quickly and seats are limited, so do yourself a favor and plan ahead. Once you enroll, the school will send you a course manual along with all of the necessary forms to fill out, including the most important document: the dreaded physical. Believe me, I'm the last one who likes to go to the doctor, but it's for your safety and really isn't that big a deal. Once you get the green light from the doc, fax back your paperwork and you're set.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to read the materials before the first day of class. Simply put, it doesn't matter if you have experience behind the wheel; without reading it, you're going to be behind from the moment you step into the classroom. The manual is a quick read, outlining the complete course in detail to discussing the schedule, safety equipment, and the specs of the car you're piloting.
What We Did
Learned driving techniques with the best-and even managed to earn our NHRA competition license
Where Was It
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
When inquiring about the power-plant, Hawley was adamant to say that these engines have minimal changes, namely their choice of exhaust, but that will vary for any chassis being used. Other than that, these 572ci big-blocks are exactly the way you get them from GM Performance Parts. If you're looking for something similar, Pace Parts offers the deluxe package for $14,459, including the water pump, carburetor, distributor, intake, and spark plug wires. If you take into consideration what it takes to build a reliable powerplant of this caliber, that's a mighty fine deal. As a testament to these engines, Hawley uses these mills exclusively, reporting no problems whatsoever. Considering the vigorous use of them at the school, these are proven packages.
|Engine type ||Tall-deck big-block |
|Displacement ||572ci |
|Bore x Stroke ||4.560 x 4.375 |
|Block ||Cast iron with four-bolt mains |
|Crankshaft ||Forged steel |
|Rods ||Forged steel, shot-peened |
|Pistons ||Forged aluminum |
|Cylinder heads ||Aluminum rectangular-port, 118cc chambers |
|Valve size ||2.25/1.88 intake/exhaust |
|Compression ||12:1 |
|Rocker arms ||1.7:1 aluminum roller |
|Distributor ||Electronic ignition |
|Recommended fuel ||110-octane |
|Ignition timing ||Base 8º BTDC, 36º total |
|Max recommended rpm ||6,750 |
|Balanced ||Internal |
|Camshaft ||Mechanical roller |
0.714/0.714 inch lift @ 0.050
266/274 degrees duration @ 0.050
After the intros and Hawley's...
After the intros and Hawley's introductory speech, it was time to head out to one of the trailers and get suited up. When you first sign up, the FHDRS staff will ask for your general measurements and provide you with the proper driving suit; just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and calf-length socks. If you have your own equipment, you're more than welcome to bring it.
After suiting up, we toured...
After suiting up, we toured the track. Hawley discussed the cone setup and showed us the various distances we would cover on each of the six passes. He even went on to describe various track conditions and how to stage the car and line up in the groove.
The cones are placed to help...
The cones are placed to help guide you from your burnout to staging the car. The first cone is where you start the burnout, and the second is where you want to lift the throttle and slow down. After you back up, the third set of cones is where you want to stop the car and wait for the signal to stage the car. Easy enough, right?
If you've never been on the...
If you've never been on the dragstrip before, the school places these signs in the intervals of your runs at 200, 600, and 1,000 feet, with the final sign being marked as a full pass. While you don't want to stare at them directly while driving, it'll give you a good perspective of how far to go before lifting the throttle.
After a complete rundown of...
After a complete rundown of the track, it was off to the Chassis Engineering-built Firebird, which as you know is the sister car to our favorite fourth-gen Camaro. It was here where we got familiar with the general layout of the chassis and the functions of the interior components. This included how to get in and out and how to use the switches, gauges, shifter, and removable steering wheel.
From this passenger-side shot,...
From this passenger-side shot, you get a pretty good idea of the no-nonsense interior, with its simple yet functional dcor. Getting the chassis down to 2,300 pounds is easy with aluminum panels, fiberglass dash, and Lexan windows.