Sick Week: When Drag Racers Design Their Own Trial by Fire

Cameron Neveu

Sick Week 2024 kicks off on January 28 at Orlando Speed World. This year, instead of ushering in the new year with Florida sun and burnt rubber, I’m holed up in my Michigan home surrounded by snow. Rather than shed a tear (it would likely freeze), let’s go back to 2023 and relive the event through my camera. If you’re anywhere near this year’s southern soiree, I suggest you go. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to search last-minute flights to Orlando. —CN

Throw the Baja 1000 and the NHRA season in a blender, and you get Sick Week. During a five-day rally, drag racers in everything from decommissioned Crown Vics to hot-rod Firebirds cover over 1000 miles of public roads, visiting four different drag strips and making multiple runs to net the quickest time. The top cars here lay down quarter-miles in the realm of an NHRA Pro Stocker—under 7 seconds, at speeds exceeding 200 mph. Yet the real goal for the hundreds who compete is simply to finish.

“It’s super grueling,” says Hagerty contributor Tony Angelo, who participated in the 2023 event in a 10-second Firebird. “There’s limited sleep, and tons of parts break. But when you finish, it’s the greatest feeling of accomplishment ever.”

I caught the Sick Week bug last winter during its stop in Bradenton, Florida.

How Sick Week Works: Road to Strip to Road

2023 Sick Week Amateur Drag Racing event crown vic front three quarter burnout towing gear trailer
Cameron Neveu

Aside from burnouts, the most common sight during Sick Week is pant legs wriggling under cars, usually accompanied by shouted profanities. Roadside repairs are the rule, not the exception.

Teams are capped at two people, and the use of a support vehicle is strictly prohibited. Some racers tow spare parts, drag slicks, and other road-trip necessities in a single-axle trailer behind their ride. No trailer queens here.

2023 Sick Week Amateur Drag Racing event mustang parked with tow rig rear three quarter
Cameron Neveu

Each morning, the group departs from a hotel for a nearby strip. At the racetrack, racers might swap tires, tune carburetors, or even change supercharger blower pulleys to prep their street-legal cars for the drag strip. Once each driver makes a pass (or multiple passes if they want to improve on their time), they pack up, convert the car back to street mode, and point their hood scoops toward the next town.

What You’ll See at Sick Week: Beasts of All Kinds

A common complaint about drag racing (and just about every professional racing series nowadays) is that the cars are too much alike. That’s not a problem at Sick Week, where you can see everything from a Volvo wagon to late-model trucks alongside the standard muscle car fare. They compete in more than a dozen classes. Many of the vehicles are seriously quick—a stock Porsche 911 Turbo S would run mid-pack—but all are welcome. A 1997 Jeep Wrangler competing in the stick-shift class ran a 19-second time.

How Sick Week Started … and How It’s Going

2023 Sick Week Amateur Drag Racing event tire smoke rear
Cameron Neveu

Sick Week is in only its third year, but the 350 entry spots sold out in all of two minutes. Sick Week’s founder, Tom Bailey—a celebrity in the drag-and-drive niche—is a four-time champion of Hot Rod’s Drag Week. His street-legal 4000-hp 1969 Camaro, capable of 5-second passes, unofficially holds the title as “the fastest street car in America.”

It was at Drag Week in 2021 that Bailey and a group of friends began discussing what they would do differently if they had their own event.

“At the top of our hit list was good track prep,” says Bailey. “Put us on great tracks where people can run their best times.” Bailey, a Michigan native, had spent his summers testing in Florida and discovered several quality strips within a day’s drive of one another. “I thought: ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this?’”

Bailey and his posse rushed to assemble the first Sick Week in 2022. It was an instant hit. “I remember arriving late to a track one day and seeing the cars lined up for miles,” says Bailey. “It was packed on a Thursday morning in February.”

What’s Sick Week Like? Hurry up and wait

“It’s hard to go fast. It’s even harder to make every stop,” says Angelo, the Firebird driver. This is a sentiment shared by all, as getting the drag car to the track is half the battle—Florida traffic is enough to force the coolant out of any radiator. You can only relax once you’re in the staging lanes. While they wait for their pass, some weary competitors sleep in the seat, on the ground, or on a hood.

You Don’t Have to Race: Join the Sick Ward

Of course, the real draw, at the end of the day, is the raw power of drag racing. Sick Week brings in so many spectators that Bailey created the “Sick Ward” for people who just wanted to cruise with the group and enjoy the camaraderie rather than race. Members of the Ward, as well as local drag nuts, pack the stands at every Florida and Georgia stop—pretty amazing for a weekday event.




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