How to have nitro fun without an NHRA budget
Owners of most racing cars have been rather spoiled with options in the 21st century when it comes to the smorgasbord of sanctioning bodies and events available to compete in.
Where, though, do you take an earth-moving, 6,000 horsepower, nitromethane-burning drag racing car outside of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series if you don’t have the desire or stratospheric budget?
For a long time, you had nowhere to go.
Now there’s Nitro Chaos — a four-race, purse-paying, ‘run what ya brung’ championship for racers wanting to compete with any nitro-fueled car, with the only rule being that cars “must run on a minimum 80 percent nitromethane.”
Nitro Chaos launched its inaugural season May 4-6 at Edgewater Sports Park in Cincinnati, OH.
Other than a minimum nitro requirement, the Nitro Chaos series operates on a pretty thin rulebook. Image by Cody Clobig
The brainchild of Chris and Tera Graves, the series is an evolution of the popular standalone Funny Car Chaos events held for the last few years. With enthusiastic crowds wanting more fiery action and plenty of teams looking for a place to race against each other, the couple secured a host of sponsors to launch the new series and provide a place to race virtually any nitro-burning car, plus a live streaming package on FloRacing. The promise of $34,000 race purses and a $10,000 championship payout at the end of the 2023 season is attracting a number of Altereds, Funny Cars, old front-engine Top Fuel cars and even an NHRA championship-winning headliner.
Megan Meyer, two-time NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster champion, left racing behind years ago, but the lure of Nitro Chaos’ friendly competition and compact logistics drew her back in.
“When I left NHRA… it was a lot of traveling, a lot of politics; I was just burnt out on it,” Meyer explained. “When I heard Nitro Chaos was (going to be) a thing — which it wasn’t at the time I decided to retire, and really had no plans of getting back in the seat — I was like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect!’ The races are kind of close to home, it’s just a few times a year, I don’t have to travel very much. You know, I can still bring my family and we can still have fun with it, so it was the perfect thing for me to do.”
For Meyer, Nitro Chaos brings all the fun of pro drag racing, but none of the travel, cost or politics. Image by Cody Globig
Former IHRA president and Nitro Chaos Race Director at Edgewater, Scott Gardner, weighed in on how the budding series has developed and where it’s going.
“Chris and Tera’s vision was never to essentially have two series,” he said. “Their vision was the Funny Car Chaos, which is doing really well, and (Nitro Chaos) was born out of it. It’s just been natural (growth) with more and more people coming to the races, more nitro entries. In 2023 it’s really gained its legs with being a points series, having a championship points fund, and all those types of things behind it.”
To keep budgets under control and stay safe at local drag strips, Nitro Chaos runs to the 1/8 mile, giving fans in the stands quick, loud, ground-pounding races. The format has been a big draw for race teams, in particular, running nostalgic and modern equipment alike.
Meyer brought her tried and true, nitro-injected TAD.
“So we run 1/8 mile instead of a full 1/4 mile, so that does help save on parts, which does help on costs,” she said. “Before (in NHRA TAD) we’d only get one run out of the oil and spark plugs; now we get two to three runs. The biggest thing we’ll do (in the turnaround) is we change the clutch every run. Rod bearings — we’ll get a couple runs on those before we have to change them out. And then we’ll just check valves and that’s about it. We don’t have to change heads (like an NHRA TF or FC team), so we don’t need that many people here. We can do it with two or three crew guys, which is nice, again, because it saves on cost. So between rounds it’s mostly just fill it with fuel, pack the parachutes, download the RacePak and change some timing and that’s about it.”
The shorter races in Nitro Chaos mean less wear and tear on parts. Image by Cody Globig
With such a variety of machinery entered, the series also splits the 16 car fields in two — the top eight qualifiers in the A-field, the bottom eight in the B-field.
“The idea is to create a playing field for (all) types of cars,” Gardner said. “Here we’ve had front-engine Top Fuel Dragsters, we’ve had Fuel Altereds, we’ve had Funny Cars, all mixed together at one time. The A-class (rounds) are heads-up, whoever’s first to the finish line wins. The B-class runs off an index that’s 0.2s quicker than the No. 1 (qualifier), so chances are no one’s going to hit that (and break out, common bracket racing-style). But in the final, no matter what happens, we take that (index) off and it’s first one wins. They could technically (break out), and the reason we do it that way is to keep someone from…sandbagging, meaning dogging it during qualifying to be the best car in the B-class and then going out and kicking everyone’s rear ends.”
For Gardner, the main aim is to ensure that all types of cars have a chance to compete. Image by Cody Globig
So why has an exhibition series like Funny Car Chaos grown into this burgeoning, all-inclusive Nitro Chaos in such short time?
“What this offers is something that’s not available anywhere in the country, so that’s what makes it appealing,” said Gardner. “These guys really wouldn’t have a place to race if it wasn’t for Chris and Tera bringing this series, because most of these guys cannot get time off or afford to run NHRA, even if they had a car to fit in one of those classes. To build one of those cars is very costly. Mitch King (one of the Edgewater entries) has a Top Fuel Dragster; he runs NHRA events, but he also runs with us. And he knows if he runs NHRA events, he can do a couple events per year, but do you want to race your whole year on only two events? So he has his other car and he comes and runs with us.
“So as a racer, we offer them the opportunity to come and have fun on a pretty serious level without the requirement that comes with trying to run the national NHRA series, which is pretty unattainable to most people. A lot of these (folks) are heart and soul racers. They work very hard during the week to be able to race. Not that some of them don’t have good sponsors — they do — but a lot of them are doing it out of their pocket. And there’s some NHRA racers doing the same thing, but there’s a higher percentage of that here, funding themselves.”
Since many entrants are longtime drag racing families and car collectors, the financial sustainability of running the most expensive fuel in the industry is a concern, but Gardner has been in the drag racing world long enough to not be concerned with the availability or cost.
“During the pandemic, one of the chemicals needed to make nitromethane was pretty hard to get. Now, finally, it’s starting to flow back out, but as with everything in the country and around the world, inflation’s hit it and the price is going up and up… It’s at thousands of dollars per barrel now, and these guys use about 20 gallons per run. They need a couple barrels just to get through a weekend, so it’s a substantial bill.
“I don’t think Chris and Tera are out there going, ‘Next year we’re going to run 12 races…’ or anything like that. It’s a ‘grow as it’s allowed to grow.’ So if there’s a sufficient amount of cars that want to run these events, if there’s enough series sponsorship, then you grow the series. But you don’t push it past where it needs to be at the time. So if we have nearly-full or full fields at the end of this year, and sponsorship keeps growing, and tracks keep wanting to be a part of it, then yeah, we’ll follow it organically.”
Meyer knows she’s in it for the foreseeable future, too.
“I did sign a two year agreement with (my sponsor) Gunk, so I’ll definitely be here next year doing the same thing,” she said. “So we’ll see what happens in the future. I know it’s getting popular. A lot of people love this with the (Funny Car Chaos side and now the Nitro Chaos side), so it is growing.
“Whenever I do something, I do it 100 percent; I don’t just want to do one race a year and that’s it. So if I’m going to do it, I’m giving it my all and going for a championship and see what we can do with it. There’s already four races and I’m sure there will be more in the future.”
The first event at Edgewater originally had 21 entries before weather pushed the event back one week until the first weekend in May, dropping the entries to 17 — enough for one car to be sent home after three rounds of qualifying. The majority of the field changed plans at the last minute with pleasure. There’s a championship at stake, now, after all…
“When we go to different parts of the country we do draw different cars,” Gardner said. “That’s what’s really cool about this series. This weekend, Chris is down in Texas with Funny Car Chaos. Two dozen cars or more are running there, so both series are very strong. I don’t know if we could run Nitro Chaos and Funny Car Chaos next door to each other, although at our next event in Eddyville (Iowa), we’re running both at the same time and we’ve got over 60 cars entered already. So there’s plenty of cars out there.
“A lot are midwestern, but when we go places down south like Texas, you’ve got different cars that come out and run those events because that’s where they live. It’s like back in the old days decades ago where when NHRA would go to different parts of the country, different cars would run Top Fuel and Funny Car. It’s not so much today because there’s not that abundance of numbers in their series, but there is in our series. So when we go to a different part of the country we’ll pick up some guys that won’t necessarily come to an event unless they want to chase points and get that little disease we all get in racing — that ‘I want to be the champion.’ I would say two-thirds of the cars here (are running all four races and going for the championship) and one-third of them will jump in and out.”
As for Meyer’s racing comeback?
Well, after qualifying No. 1 with a 3.508s at 228.77mph, she cruised through round one before going red in the A-field semi, sending Tyler Hilton’s Fuel Altered to the final.
“Man, it sucks,” Meyer said as night fell. “It’s a bummer because I know that we probably had the best car here. We qualified No. 1, so we had the potential there. My guys, my sister, my crew chief, they all did great. So it sucks as a driver to let them down. Just had issues with the tree with it taking so long. I just got anxious, got out of my routine; I wasn’t focused. Just didn’t do my job.
“We’ve just got to shake this one off and make sure we’re extra focused for the next one. We’ll have two dragsters and (our) Funny Car at the next one so we’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have a lot of people there, and we’ll have a lot of family there too because it’s kind of close to home, so we’ll hopefully not get distracted with that part of it. We’ll definitely try our best at Eddyville and put at least one of the Meyer cars in the final and the winner’s circle.”
Todd Bruce’s ‘The Bull’ took the A-field honors in Ohio. Image by Cody Globig
Todd Bruce’s ‘The Bull’ TAD eventually defeated Hilton for the A-field win at Edgewater, while Levi Keenen’s nostalgia FC defeated Gary Wheeler’s front-engine TFD on the B-field side.
Gardner ended the day pleased with how well the first race went.
“Today, extremely smooth, great show. (You could hear) the fans’ applause at the final. They loved it. I think this event’s going to grow tremendously next year. The word will get out that this was a great show. The racers are happy, we’re happy, the track operator’s happy. It’s a good deal.”
Remaining 2023 Nitro Chaos schedule (all rounds streamed live on FloRacing)
“Chaos in the Cornfield” – Eddyville, IA – May 26-28
Mo-Kan Dragway – Asbury, MO – July 14-15
Thunder Valley Raceway Park – Lexington, OK – Sep. 22-23