BRISTOL, Tenn. — The outlaws roared into Bristol Dragway on Friday, hauling a fleet of sleek dragsters behind them.
The wandering pack of racers comprising the fledgling American Drag Racing League is a largely anonymous lot with the exception of a few veteran drivers who have some IHRA or NHRA experience under their belts.
While name recognition was lacking in Bristol this weekend, speed was not. There was more than enough raw horsepower in the pits to draw a healthy crowd to the grandstands during the ADRL’s first visit to Thunder Valley, which wrapped up with final eliminations on Saturday night.
Like every other motorsports organization in the world, the ADRL sells speed and all the thrills and spills that go along with it. But much of the buzz during this weekend’s inaugural visit to Bristol centered on a class of cars that looked like they were driven in off Volunteer Parkway.
The Supercar Showdown drew six unmodified muscle cars to Bristol promising to put on an exhibition of racing in its simplest (and oldest) form — a head-to-head, straight-up battle between vehicles available to the general public at auto dealerships across America.
Stock car racing is an old idea, but the evolution of the vehicles in racing organizations like the IRL, NHRA and NASCAR have created a vacuum the ADRL is more than happy to fill. ADRL announcer Bret Kepner said the age-old war between auto manufacturers rages on, and the Supercar Showdown simply offers them a battlefield on which to slug it out.
“This is really just a response to the current global horsepower war going on between automakers,” Kepner said. “This class encompasses every car that is currently being produced. Everybody is in the middle of that war and, quite honestly, they didn’t have a place to showcase their cars in a true, even-start, no-handicap fashion.”
The Supercar Showdown is still in its infancy — the event in Bristol marked the second outing for the class. Ford was sold on the idea from the outset, and five of the six cars on hand this weekend were produced by the domestic automaker. Dodge has also jumped into the fray with Randi Lyn Shipp piloting her Mopar-powered Challenger.
Word in the pits is that Chevrolet will be represented soon with a high-performance Camaro, providing a proving ground for the Ford vs. Chevy rivalry that has cooled considerably in these parts since NASCAR started slapping bow tie and oval decals on an identical fleet of Cup cars a few years back.
Ford drivers Bo Butner, who won the first Supercar race in Houston, and Chris Holbrook can only wonder what kind of emotion the arrival of Chevy will bring. They’ve already met enough Mopar fans to know it will be intense.
“You have your diehard Mopar person and your diehard Ford person,” Butner said. “The Mopar guys hate Chris and I. These Chevy people, I think we’re converting them because they’re kind of dragging their (butt) on getting their car out here.”
There are rumors that racing tycoon Victor Cagnazzi has already ordered a Camaro with three different engine combinations and is planning on making a big splash in the division. Butner is opting for the wait-and-see approach.
“Who knows what they’re going to do with them,” he said. “I don’t think they’re very fast.”
The beauty of the Supercar Showdown is that racing fans and auto enthusiasts will soon have the chance to find out just how fast the Camaro is. There will be no smoke and mirrors, no negotiations, no bald guy waving his arms like the San Diego Chicken — just two muscle cars, a clock and a grandstand full of rabid race fans waiting to see how it all shakes out.
“These people see the win light and they see the brand,” Butner said of race fans. “All us racers are tied in with ETs and speed. These people are like, ‘My Mopar won or my Ford won.’ That’s where this is going to take off.”
As time goes on, ADRL officials expect more manufacturers to hop on board, igniting the sort of competition that pushed motorsports to prominence in the first place. It’s an old idea, but sometimes old ideas turn out to be the best ones.
“We didn’t reinvent the wheel here,” Kepner said. “We took a bunch of cars waiting for a class to run and gave them that class. We’re not taking credit for changing the world.”