Cordova File Photo

Clinton Herald File Photo

CORDOVA – There are few feelings more bizarre than approaching a group of strangers who all have the tips of their fingers planted firmly in their ears.

Turns out, I was the weird one.

One deafening roar later, my hands stayed cupped around my antennas for the rest of last Friday night at Cordova International Raceway, the site of the 66th running of the World Series of Drag Racing.

Believe it or not, last week was the first drag racing event I have ever attended. Or watched at all, really. Going in, I was a blank canvas, my lone knowledge revolving around the flames that shoot out of the back of a T-model (I later learned the correct term was a “top fuel”) or the parachutes at the finish line.

By the end of night, though, I found myself watching a race, then internally predicting the times before looking at either of the electronic boards posted atop either lane. It was fun. I was surprised by the detail of many of the cars, many of which were vintage, souped-up vehicles from decades ago, each with elaborate paint designs and clever names, such as “Buzzy’s Bomber.”

I heard whispers of the crowds that travel from other parts of the Midwest (and beyond) and was certainly not disappointed. In fact, the general atmosphere away from the track felt like a three-day music festival mixed with a county fair. The campsite was plump full and the competitors’ trailers stretched along nearly as far as the eye can see. There was plenty of beer. There were even more smiles and laughter.

As I sat in the grandstand (with my carnival-style jumbo corn dog, of course) I listened along to the PA announcers discuss the history of CIR. It quickly dawned on me that I wasn’t on the property of a random race track or at just another event on the calendar. This was big. And it felt that way.

“Everyone in the sport has been to this race track at one point in their lives,” is the phrase that was repeated over and over again. While I don’t classify as a drag racing superfan, it was an insightful experience as a fan of all sports.

By the end of the night, I almost felt like I belonged. I sighed with the others when there was an oil spill on the track that forced a hockey-like zamboni onto the pavement for a lengthy cleaning delay. I winced with the group when the smell of nitro methane was particularly pungent. I “Wow’ed” out loud when a racer made it down the track in nine seconds.

I chatted with a group from Wisconsin who make the trip every year. They immediately sensed my unfamiliarity but welcomed me in, anyway, which essentially sums up the majority of attendees, good-hearted people simply looking to have a good time. And we had one.

Thanks for having me, CIR. Until next time.