Race week is upon us here in the Brainerd Lakes, and I couldn’t be more excited! As a racing veteran (I’ve been to somewhere around 500 races in my 27 years of life, and counting!) I know it’s not always easy to plan or know what to expect when going to your first or 40th Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. So here’s everything you need to know!
It’s the fastest action you’ll ever see on land – and it could be a record breaking weekend
Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars represent the absolute peak of automotive engineering’s pursuit of speed and acceleration. With a 1000 foot record top speed of 339.87MPH set by Robert Hight in 2017, the Top Fuel categories represent the fastest racing cars on the planet. The drag racing world is abuzz, though, about the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd specifically. Cars love the cool Minnesota summer air, and combining that with BIR’s plentiful runoff means that for the first time in history the mythical 340mph barrier could be broken right here in Minnesota’s playground.
Bring hearing protection
How loud is drag racing? The short answer is incomprehensibly loud. There is no way to overstate how loud it is. It’s a full body experience. During my time working alongside these incredible machines, I’ve fallen in love with the noise… But it’s not to be trifled with. The sound waves are enough to move your skin and muscles around your bones, making you acutely aware of the sack of flesh that is your body. The launch vibrates your teeth in your mouth. Have you ever experienced something so loud you can taste it?
Bring hearing protection, the best you can find. Especially for kids. You will thank me. Personally I use in-ear earplugs and over the ear shotgun hearing protection at the same time. I visit audiologists semi-regularly to manage my hearing because it is so important to my job, and the phrase “total structural destruction of the eardrum” is thrown around every once in a while.
Hearing protection won’t change your enjoyment, either. Take Big Daddy Don Garlits’ word for it. “You don’t hear a dragster with your ears, you hear it with your bones.”
We don’t use Gas, Instead We Nearly Suffocate.
Top Fuel? Once you want to reach a certain speed, you don’t use gasoline. You use something a little more… Destructive. Nitromethane is the “Fuel” in “Top Fuel” and it is absolutely wicked. It’s a skin irritant, an eye irritant, and a throat irritant. It stings your nostrils. It makes you cough uncontrollably. It makes you feel as if you are suffocating, because you really are getting less oxygen than normal standing next to one. It’s incredible, really. Nothing in the motorsports world is an assault on all of the senses quite like it, and standing next to a Top Fuel engine as it fires up is truly a unique experience. Walk the pits and see if you can get whiff. Just follow the sting of the nostrils and watering of your eyes.
Top Alcohol cars also eschew traditional gasoline for Methanol, and while it may not be as powerful or assault your senses like nitro, alcohol has an extremely unique quality most first-timers wouldn’t expect. They smell sweet. Like the fruitiest drink you’ve ever had. They are intoxicating in their own way!
Come early, and stay the whole day!
Regardless of if you have tickets for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or the whole weekend, BIR and I want you to know that arriving a bit early is the absolute best play for a couple reasons.
First off, There’s a lot of people at the Lucas Oil Nationals. It’s bigger than any other sporting event in the state of Minnesota. Coming early ensures that you simultaneously beat the crowd and don’t miss any of that glorious nitro action while sitting on 371.
Secondly, your ticket gives you access to an absolutely full day of racing! With 11 classes of cars from Top Fuel Dragsters to the beloved Pro Mods, the track will be hot basically all day with cars of various speeds, capabilities, and looks. On Friday the midway opens at 1:00pm while the qualifying for all classes run nearly all day. Saturday the track goes hot at 9:15am with smaller classes before roaring into Top Alcohol at 11:15, and that’s before the midway opens at 11:30.
11 Classes of Chaos
Not all race cars are created equal, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t produce great racing! When the Top Fuel cars are in between runs, make sure to check out the other great classes of cars.
Top Alcohol Funny Cars and Dragsters feature alcohol burning versions of the Top Fuel cars, and feature incredibly skilled drivers in some absolutely incredible machines.
Bracket and index racing classes feature cars trying to achieve a set time objective without being too quick. While this may sound unintuitive to the first-timer, it ensures that all racers, regardless of car or monetary support, can compete. With all cars on an equal playing field, it’s up to the drivers to win and lose races.
Pro Mod might be my favorite class. With some of the world’s fastest cars with working doors, pro mod drivers go for some wild rides and drive the absolute bejeebus out of full bodied cars that resemble road-going cars.
You Have to Walk the pits
Unlike other sports which may charge extra for a pit pass, the NHRA Nationals are the opposite. All fans are able to walk the pit areas, see the crew work on the cars, and interact with the drivers! Make sure to walk around and get that insane whiff of nitrous when an engine starts or even find a driver for a picture, hero card, autograph, or selfie! Drivers love interacting with fans, and the ease of access is truly unlike any other racing series around.
Make Sure to Check out The Zoo
Some places in racing have a reputation for their fans. The Tifosi at Monza. The Infield at Talladega. Turn 3 and The Snake Pit at the Indy 500. Right here in Brainerd is the drag racing equivalent. Brainerd is infamous throughout the entire drag racing world for the fans and The Zoo, and that’s not just me kissing up to the local crowd. I knew about The Zoo for years before I moved to Minnesota or went to BIR.
What is The Zoo? Simply put, it’s the extensive campgrounds on the interior of the Road Course, which function as the largest party in the state of Minnesota. You won’t meet a stranger, or anyone who isn’t having a good time… or anyone who is sober. If you aren’t in the Zoo to drink or party, go in for the people watching, and thank me later.
The worst day at a race track is still usually a pretty darn good day. An open mind and a willingness to have a good time got me hooked on racing as a kid, and to this day that’s all that’s needed to have the absolute time of your life at BIR!