NHRA brings drivers, teams home

The National Hot Rod Association will make its bi-annual stop at zMax Dragway this weekend. That means a lot of drivers and crew members won’t have far to travel to compete in the Four-Wide Nationals.

“It’s nice to have a race this close to home,” said Pro Stock Car driver Jason Line, whose Summit Racing team is based in Mooresville. “Staying in your own bed is a great thing.”

Line and teammate Greg Anderson’s Summit Racing are part of a growing number of NHRA teams located in the Charlotte area. Most of the NHRA’s top teams remain based in Indianapolis, which also has a drag strip and a wealth of motorsports resources.

The Charlotte area became a logical competitor to Indianapolis as a drag-racing hub. The major reasons why: the recently built zMax Dragway and the resources associated with NASCAR’s Charlotte-area base.

In addition to Line’s Summit Racing in Mooresville, Gray Motorsports is based in Denver, N.C., and Tasca Racing is in Concord. Matt Smith’s Pro Stock motorcycle shop is in Winston-Salem. Doug Herbert’s Top Fuel Dragster outfit is based in Lincoln County.

There is little that Indianapolis offers that Charlotte can’t match as a motorsports hub. Local teams are able to take advantage of the resources the NASCAR community offers, whether it’s technology, fabricating car shells, even finding trailers to transport cars to races.

Having zMax Dragway available for testing is also an advantage. The pool in Charlotte for hiring mechanics, fabricators and other potential team members is also deep. Whether it’s NASCAR or NHRA, there are always folks looking for a motorsports job and Charlotte is the place to find one.

“A lot of good folks come here looking for NASCAR jobs,” said Line, who had one himself when he worked for five years as a head dyno operator for Joe Gibbs Racing. “So we try to hire them. They’ve had to cut back over the last couple years over there, and there are some talented guys out there who still need jobs.”

NHRA teams are smaller than NASCAR teams, however. So versatility is a key for an NHRA crew member.

“It’s very different,” said Tasca, who is l0th in the Funny Car standings. “Our guys have to be great truck drivers and great mechanics. They have to do it all: hospitality, working on the car. At the speed we operate, we’re not just changing tires between runs, we’re rebuilding engines, so you’ve got to be able to do all that and also be able to put on a cam, valves, chambers, all in one condensed period of time.”

Tasca lives in Rhode Island but set up shop in Concord when he started his Pro Stock car team in 2009, the year after zMax opened.

“People around Charlotte might not have ‘gotten’ drag racing as much back then,” said Tasca. “It’s different now. I think there’s much more of an acceptance and understanding of what we’re doing now.”

Line, a two-time champion who is second in this season’s standings, doesn’t understand why more of his fellow racers aren’t now based in Charlotte.

“I don’t know what Indy has to offer other than being centrally located,” he said. “Other than that, I can’t think of one reason to be in Indy rather than in Charlotte. Unless you’re living in the past, maybe.”