Have you ever wanted to test the drag racing capabilities of an 8,000-pound vehicle that’s shaped like a file cabinet? I have. And that’s how my friend Matt and I ended up spending last Tuesday night drag racing my Hummer at Atco Raceway in suburban New Jersey.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: I drag raced my Hummer at a legitimate drag strip with a legitimate drag racing timer, and legitimate drag racing grandstands, and a legitimate drag racing ambulance that’s there for legitimate drag racing emergencies, such as someone choking on a giant wad of chewing tobacco.
You’d know all this if you followed me on Twitter, because I posted several pictures of the Hummer at the drag strip. We also had a little guessing game of quarter mile times, and dozens of you participated with guesses ranging from “16 seconds” to “Does the drag strip have a calendar?”
Even Top Gear USA host Rutledge Wood submitted a guess of his own, though I must say that Rut’s prediction didn’t quite give the Hummer’s aging, tired, 190-horsepower Chevy V8 the drag racing credit it clearly deserves.
But we’ll get to the times in a second.
First, I would like to explain the feeling you get when you show up to Atco Raceway on “anything goes” night in your Hummer. Mostly, you feel absolute dread. This is because you have decided to inflict this vehicle on a large group of people who clearly take this sport seriously. Very seriously. As seriously as German schoolteachers treat children who violate major classroom rules, such as fighting, or skipping class, or smiling.
Now, I have been to many drag strips in many places over the years, and what I have typically discovered is that on an “open” night, people bring all sorts of stupid cars out to race. Daily drivers. Economy cars. Full-size pickups. Minivans. Saturns.
But not to Atco. Oh, no. When we showed up to Atco, we were surrounded by serious-looking pickups hauling serious-looking trailers containing serious-looking drag racing vehicles with rear tires wider than a regulation size sleeping pillow. To say we were intimidated would be an understatement. It felt like an early season college football game where some big team like Nebraska tries to pad their record by scheduling some small team like Little Sisters of the Poor.
Given how seriously everyone seemed to be taking things, I was also very worried about tech inspection. For those of you who don’t know about drag racing tech inspection, it’s where they go over your car in great detail and check the tires, and the brakes, and the engine, and the battery, and the fluids. They do this to ensure it is prepared for the grueling task of driving in a straight line for approximately four city blocks.
So we rolled up to the tech inspection booth, and we handed the guy the tech inspection sheet, and we were fully prepared for him to say something like “No Hummers” or “you can’t run this here.” Instead, the conversation went exactly as follows:
Tech Inspection Guy: This is a real Hummer!
Tech Inspection Guy: Is it a diesel?
Me: No, this one has a Chevy 350. They made a few with a gas engine.
Tech Inspection Guy: Ah.
[Tech Inspection Guy writes my drag racing number on the windshield]
Tech Inspection Guy: This is a real Hummer, not one of them later ones, built for bitches.
And with that – and the friendly reminder “Don’t run anybody over” – we had passed tech inspection. There was no tire check. There was no brake check. There was no fluid check. We were ready to race.
Now, before we get into the Hummer’s drag racing time, a little note about general drag times for those of you who haven’t devoted your union pipefitter overtime pay to building a Fox Body Mustang with a motor that sticks up so far out of the engine bay that it looks like you’re driving a V8-powered grain silo.
Here’s the deal: a very fast street-legal car runs a 10- or 11-second quarter mile. An average midsize sedan runs a 15- or 16-second quarter mile. A tremendously slow economy car runs a 18- or 19-second quarter mile.
I predicted the Hummer would run a 25.
So we waited, and we moved up, and we waited, and we moved up, and then finally it was the Hummer’s time to shine. Matt was in the grandstands filming, and I was in the Hummer thinking the kind of things a person thinks when he’s behind the wheel of a giant, military-spec vehicle at a competition event for performance cars. Namely: I wonder if this is the slowest vehicle in Atco Raceway history.
And then… GREEN! The Hummer shot off with all the verve of a guy pushing a mail cart around a corporate office.
Inside, I was flooring the pedal, and waiting, and flooring the pedal, and waiting, and flooring the pedal, and … eventually, I crossed the line. Nervously, I slowed down in the giant braking area and pulled around to the booth where the drag strip worker gives you a printout of the time. And it was…
22.2 seconds at 61.3 miles per hour.
Given that I thought the Hummer would run a 25-second quarter mile, I was ecstatic. The Hummer had beaten something other than a rival nation’s understaffed military! So I smiled and I pumped my fist and I shouted with glee and I celebrated my excellent time the only way a drag racer knows how: by getting back in line and trying to beat it.
Unfortunately, this was quite a long process, because several other classes had to run before us. But the waiting gave us an opportunity to check out the wide selection of other cars that had showed up to race. Oh, sure, there were the usual modified Mustangs, and modified Camaros, and modified CTS-Vs, and modified Challengers. But there were also some real gems. There were three different semi trucks that ran 14-second quarter miles. There was a modified Hyundai Accent with the bumper removed and giant drag slicks on the front wheels. And some guy had taken a Volkswagen Beetle body, mounted it to a drag racer chassis, and stuck the engine in front.
It was quite a scene.
After about an hour, it was once again the Hummer’s time to shine. We waited, and moved up, and waited, and moved up, and finally I was back in position: sitting at the lights, helmet on, perfectly situated, ready to move down the track with the vigor of a competition bicyclist.
Once again, the light turned green, and once again, I WAS OFF!, creating more noise than actual acceleration. Everyone in the crowd waited, and watched, and yawned, and had a snack, and went home to let the dog out, and waited some more. For that one drag run, I was the C-SPAN of Atco Raceway.
But eventually, I crossed the line and I picked up the time slip. This time, it read 21.6 seconds at 63.5 miles per hour.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: the Hummer runs a 21.6-second quarter mile at a lightning-fast 63.5 miles per hour. I was tremendously impressed by this figure. Not only did it dramatically surpass my expectations, and Matt’s expectations, and most of my Twitter followers’ expectations, and Rutledge Wood’s expectations, but I previously had no idea it could even go 63 miles per hour. This led to all sorts of questions: Does my Hummer have more power than I thought? Could I break 21 seconds? Could it go sixty-four miles per hour?
Unfortunately, we will never answer these questions, because the Hummer will never return to the drag strip. The good people of Atco Raceway can breathe a sigh of relief.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.