Hot Rod Drag Week is billed as “the world’s toughest competition to find the ultimate street-legal drag car.”
It’s a grueling five-day road trip to drag strips across the midwest United States. You race. You drive. You sleep—while frantically tweaking/tuning in whatever spare time you can find.
For a gearhead, it’s truly a bucket-list event.
So it’s no surprise that a trio of Summit Racing employees wanted to experience it firsthand. Jim Greenleaf and Kris Mowrer hopped in Tommy Dupree’s fourth-gen Pontiac Trans Am and crisscrossed around Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois over five intense days of drag racing.
“It was the most awesome and horrifying experience I’ve ever had,” Dupree says with a laugh. “From the thrill of making the list as a participant to the absolute fear of being broken down and making repairs in the dark of night.”
But Dupree also stresses that racing is only part of the experience.
“Drag Week competitors are definitely a family. Countless racers stopped to make sure we were good. Offering up parts or help. It was amazing the level of kinship these people have,” he explains.
And when it comes to his colleagues, Dupree has even kinder words. “Jim, Kris, and I were already friends, but we came together as an unstoppable team determined to finish this thing!”
Fortunately, Jim Greenleaf kept a rolling log of the entire adventure, documenting the highs and lows along the way. Check out his report and pictures below.
(Story & Pictures by Summit Racing’s Jim Greenleaf)
Hot Rod Drag Week – Day 1
We arrived in Martin, Michigan at US 131 Motorsports Park as Hot Rod Drag Week newbies full of optimism and ready to take on this 1,300+ mile adventure! Drag Week quickly made it clear this would be a big challenge and a game of survival.
We made the first pass on nitrous, but were clearly down on power at the top end. Realizing we had a spark plug wire on the header, we figured it was an easy fix. Once that was corrected, we headed for the next stop: 264 miles to Norwalk, Ohio and Summit Motorsports Park.
As the trip continued, it was apparent we hadn’t resolved the issue. A quick stop for fuel and some cooldown time turned into a three hour delay. A mysterious drained battery had us chasing wires and grounds and anything else we could think of. (Thanks to another competitor for the ride to the local parts store to pick up another battery!)
We also decided to install the backup alternator. We were back on the road, but still the mystery power shortage persisted. We want to thank all the drivers that stopped to offer assistance! The camaraderie has been an incredible experience.
But something was wrong, and we needed to figure it out. After a late start and some night driving, we arrived in Norwalk just before midnight. Still unsure of the issue, we decided to get some rest and dig in tomorrow morning.
Hot Rod Drag Week – Day 2
The day begins in Norwalk still diagnosing the problem. In the hotel parking lot at 5 am, we decided to change the spark plugs, hoping they’ll give us a hint of which cylinder is holding us back—but the plugs were all clean. Regardless, we installed new plugs and kept looking.
As other competitors continued to stop over and help, one young man taught us an ingenious trick by squirting water on the header tubes and looking for the sizzle. Turns out, the #2 cylinder header tube wasn’t running as hot as the others. We decide to load up and limp to Summit Motorsports Park.
Time to work on the #2 cylinder. The plug was clean so we started swapping coils and injectors, with no success. We pulled the valve cover off and dug deeper.
There it was—a busted rocker arm!
So, we addressed the rocker and were back in business. We made our pass and got started on the 289 mile trip to Indianapolis, Indiana.
Driving through the night (and, at times, heavy rain), we arrived around 11 pm. The car was running great and we were ready for Day 3 in Indy.
Hot Rod Drag Week – Day 3
We rolled into Indy early, ready to go. The engine was happy, so we made a good, clean pass, loaded up, and headed west about 300 miles to Bryon, Illinois. Our goal was to make it to our hotel before dark at least once this week and have a nice dinner.
Some extra traffic and gas station chit-chat delayed our arrival to Bryon, which cancelled our fancy dinner plans. But there’s a silver lining here: our late start meant we got to see Dave Schroeder’s incredible Pro Mod C7 Corvette as he passed us on the highway around midnight—he’d go on to be this year’s overall event winner too!
Hot Rod Drag Week – Day 4
Despite another late night, we got up early and headed to Byron Drag Strip. The staging lanes were packed with spectators—what a cool old track!
We made the run we wanted, loaded up around noon, and started back on the 300 mile trip to Martin.
Plot twist: After we stopped for gas, Tommy tossed me the keys—I’m behind the wheel for the first time. Let’s go!
The route takes us south of Chicago, Illinois and, unfortunately, through a lot of construction traffic. It slowed us down for over an hour, but the car performed perfectly and we made it to the hotel without issue.
Though again, we didn’t make it before dark, there was still plenty to celebrate in the parking lot as we and the other competitors had made it the final day of Hot Rod Drag Week.
Hot Rod Drag Week – Day 5
We headed back to US 131 Motorsports Park where this all started just five days earlier, feeling accomplished and proud of ourselves and everyone else that was a part of this adventure.
We had survived the 1,300 mile journey.
At the track, we hoped to make a couple passes on nitrous. Unfortunately, several track delays meant we had only one run in the early afternoon. The track wasn’t able to take power, and Tommy wisely decided against the nitrous.
In the big picture, it didn’t really matter anyway, as we had made all the required passes to complete the event!
Early in the trip, as much as we wanted to go faster, we realized the need to be smart and not take ourselves out of the game.
We had won just by finishing.
2021 Hot Rod Drag Week: Epilogue
What an incredible experience for the entire team. Thanks to everyone we met along the way. We wouldn’t change a thing about the trip.
We’re now waiting for the 2022 Hot Rod Drag Week schedule announcement.
Will we be back? Stay tuned…