Five of our favorite passes from Drag Week 2019

Frank Romano's 1955 Chevy Drag Week

Hot Rod Drag Week is a drag racing event like no other. Based on the One Lap of America recipe of putting street-driven cars to the test in a marathon of endurance, competitors race, drive their cars to the next track, and race again. It’s a five-day, four-track circuit that racks up around 750–1000 total miles.

There’s no money or sponsorship deals on the line—just bragging rights and some trophies. Despite the seemingly high physical cost and the low payoff, racers have been building faster and faster cars and pushing themselves harder and harder with each passing year.

It wasn’t that long ago that a 10-second street car was quite fast. At Drag Week, a 10.99 average wouldn’t even put you among the top third. This year, 68 drivers had weekly averages in the 10s, 35 averaged 9s, 23 averaged 8s, five averaged in the 7s, and one Drag Week favorite, Tom Bailey, had a six-second average to win the event overall.

Reminder: these are quarter-mile times for cars that are all street-driven and often pull trailers.

Just finishing Drag Week is a feat in itself. Of the 354 entrants that showed up to run, 57 were lost to attrition one way or another. The drag racing takes its toll, of course, but it’s the long highway travel and backroads of the Drag Week route that claim the most victims.

It all makes for some interesting racing, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t sneak away every now and then to watch some of Hot Rod’s live stream of the event. In case you missed a lot of the action, here are some of our favorite runs that condense the action and absurdity of Drag Week into just five passes.

#5 Frostbitten 

Magnus Frost and copilot Dennis Klangebo made the trek from Sweden to put Frost’s 1974 Opel Ascona to the ultimate test of drag racing endurance. The Swedes found themselves in second place overall after turning in a 6.434-second time slip for day one in Dinwiddie, Virginia.

Underneath the skin, made from a trio of 1974 Asconas, is a Pro Mod chassis that uses (big surprise) a twin-turbo, big-block Chevy.

Unfortunately, Frost suffered the worst crash in Drag Week history and put the Opel into the wall and onto its roof. As you can see around 1:53:36, Frost was able to get out of the car and was OK—a testament to his car’s fantastic safety equipment and chassis. Crashes are not common on Drag Week, though cars do occasionally scuff the wall and continue to race.

Frost could be seen later in the week filming and cheering another Swedish team that was campaigning his previous Drag Week ride, a different Ascona that Frost had piloted in Drag Week 2016 and 2017. That car was a six-time winner of the Stockholm Open, a not-quite-legal street race. Frost drove that car to 2nd place in the Unlimited class in 2017 with an average time of 7.96 seconds, and this year driver Robin Johannesson dropped the average to 7.79 seconds, which was good enough to make the podium at third place in the Unlimited class. 

#4 Frankly flying

We’ve shared the story of the amazing, air-cooled 1919 Franklin owned by James Eby competing in Drag Week 2019, but what you may not have seen is his fastest pass of the week, right at the 10-minute mark on this video. A blistering respectable full-throttle pass on day four of Drag Week netted Eby a 28.335 elapsed time, more than 1.5 seconds faster than his average. The pits were abuzz with rumors of a hidden nitrous oxide system until they realized that Eby may have just had a 2 mph tailwind.

#3 Row, row, row your gears 

Frank Romano is a perennial Drag Week contender for the quickest stick shift car. He created the Stick Shift Shootout in 2016, an unofficial heads-up elimination bracket at the end of Drag Week to crown the fastest three-pedal car. He also built the awesome trophy that goes to the winner beginning in 2017. His ’55 Chevy is absolutely beautiful and Frank can drive it even better than he can talk trash. Did we mention he’s from Long Island? 

We only wish this part of the video included in-car footage because Frank bang-shifts the ’55 like a pro, kicking the clutch and grabbing gears in the G-Force transmission as his naturally aspirated Chevy big-block pulls him to mid-9-second passes. Even from the trackside camera at 8:44:30, you can tell that it’s a wild ride inside Frank’s car, and he has no intention of ever giving up his manual. Turn the volume up for this one. 

#2 Finnegan’s wake

Roadkill host Mike Finnegan has been tweaking and tuning his ’55 Chevy gasser “Blasphemi” since it began construction way back in the first season of Roadkill. The car has been built, raced, broken, repaired, rebuilt, and painted with the goal of being faster and more reliable. OK, the metal-flake gold paint didn’t help speed or reliability, but if it never hurts to look the part of a badass ’50s gasser.

After failing to complete Drag Week 2017, Finnegan rebuilt the ’55 and returned to Drag Week 2018 and took second in the A/Gas class with a 9.189 average. This year he was back with a slew of changes that made the supercharged, fuel-injected, all-aluminum 528-cubic-inch Hemi better than ever.

We asked Finnegan about his changes to the car for this year’s Drag Week that led to such a fast pass (5:15:22 in the clip above). “The 8.52 @161 mph pass on day one was the direct result of a month-long thrash on the car, which hadn’t run reliably in two years. I switched engine builders, which made a huge difference in terms of reliability, I also put the car on a diet and revamped the fuel and exhaust systems,” Finnegan said.

The previous iteration of the Hemi would leak water into the oil, so Finnegan went to Harrell Engine and Dyno who rebuilt the engine. The shop was also on hand for the test-and-tune the night before Drag Week officially kicked off the competition. “Customs By Bigun aligned the car and got the suspension of the Jim Meyer Racing chassis dialed in so that we could head straight to Drag Week and unleash the car with almost zero quarter-mile testing. The 8.52 crushed the A/Gas Drag Week record by four-tenths of a second and is a personal best for me.”

As a bonus, here’s Finnegan clinching his first-ever Drag Week class win.

#1 Blitzin’ Bailey

Tom Bailey has taken home the Drag Week overall win before and was the first to run a six-second pass on every day of Drag Week, but neither he nor any other driver had ever managed to make a five-second pass during Drag Week competition. Until now.

For those of you who have never seen a Pro Mod launch in person, it’s unreal. While they’re nowhere near quiet, turbochargers minimize a Pro Mod’s assault on the eardrums compared to that of a comparable supercharged car, and their ludicrous acceleration doesn’t seem proportional to their noise. Launched properly, a Pro Mod seems elegant in comparison to the wheels-up gassers and squatting muscle cars.

The quickness of Bailey’s Camaro makes any production car seem sluggish. His 1.05-second, 60-foot time means his 0–60 time was also about 1.05 seconds and hitting 250 mph in the quarter-mile puts him at a speed that only today’s hypercars could touch. (Hypercars would need miles more track to achieve these speeds, as well.)

Another way to put this into perspective: Tom Bailey could have lined his car up against any Top Fuel dragster from the 1960s or Funny Car from the 1970s and leave the nitro-burning race car in the dust. Bailey’s car not only survives highway miles; it’s engine doesn’t have to be rebuilt after every pass. That’s not to say that what Bailey and his engine builder/copilot Steve Morris do before each race is easy—it’s just a testament to how much effort has gone into building a car that will survive the rigors of Drag Week.