National Geographic : 2004 Dec
Eight hours later Jason Cannon is in the Top Alcohol Dragster final, and he's hoping for a miracle of his own: a win to resurrect a racing season battered by a broken chassis in July and a broken hand in August. Cannon eases his 3,000-horsepower vehicle into the staging area, until the rear tires sit in the burnout box, a constantly watered section of pavement where drivers spin their wheels to throw off debris and heat up the tread surface for optimum grip. His engine shifts into a howl, his back wheels blur into a fume of water vapor and scorched rubber, and the dragster jolts forward in a hot rod ritual that seems pow ered as much by adrenaline as by methanol. Fans cheer, reveling in the noise and the stink. The crowd and their tires warmed up, Cannon and opponent Fran Monaghan, Jr., back up to the head of the track, then roll slowly toward their final confrontation. Cannon's father, Phil, watches intently, standing just a few feet from the edge of the track. "Jason's been doing this since he was 16," he says. "Rac ing's something we've always done together." Starting lights flash, and two thunderbolts hurtle into the gathering dusk. Cannon and his midnight black dragster hit 258.24 miles an hour, catapulting down the quarter mile in 5.474 seconds. Monaghan trails an endless tenth of a second behind, and faster than you can read this sentence, Jason Cannon claims his victory. As darkness settles, winners cluster near the control tower, hugging, backslapping, making a flurry of good-news cell phone calls. Cans open pop, pop, pop, and the Cannon team celebrates, showering a grinning Jason in cold beer. Within hours, the bustling race town evaporates, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, and their gleaming machines headed for distant homes. Darlington International Dragway stands empty, waiting for speed lovers to return for the next big race and bring its grounds to life once more. O WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Find more 29550 images, field notes, and resources at national geographic.com/magazine/0412. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/zipcode/0412. After three days of quali fying runs and head-to head elimination duels (top), winners each claim a Wally (left), the National Hot Rod Association trophy named for founder Wally Parks. Champ of the alcohol dragster com petition, Jason Cannon (above) finishes with a smile a quarter-mile wide -fueled by victory, a big hug, and a cold beer.