It's been said that import drag racing is withering in the shadows of drifting and other new breeds of track events. Its popularity and stature are diminishing. Even though I spent more than a decade racing and hold a special passion for it, I'd be lying if I said I've never doubted its future of late. It seems the days of jam-packed race venues and that distinct "buzz" are merely memories. Or so it would seem.
In the early '90s Frank Choi and the Battle of the Imports first provided us with that packed venue buzz and excitement. Front-drive cars were striving to break into the 11-second barrier and 90 percent of racecars also served as double-duty commuters. By today's standards, e.t.'s were snail-like and the cars basically ghetto-rigged, but we all lived for the triannual Battle. Other sanctioning bodies have since come along, some have stayed, others have closed shop and the entire drag industry has evolved into something much bigger, at least in terms of cars and sponsors.
After a four-year hiatus, I recently checked out a Battle of the Imports event in Fontana, Calif., to see what it was about and to catch up with old friends. As I walked through the parking lot toward the entrance, I was amazed. I felt like I was in a time warp. Of course there were EVOs, STi's and a good mix of other new platforms, but older Civics and CRXs embossed with that old-school style dominated the lot. It profoundly reminded me of why I love this sport and culture so much; it was a strong dose of 'remembering where you came from' that was much needed.
As I reached the staging lanes, the time-warp sensation turned into adrenaline. The cars lining up to make qualifying passes sported Bogart wheels and 24-inch slicks, minimum requirement roll cages, full interiors and were just ass-haulin' street cars like so many back in the day. The pits were filled with open car trailers (many of which were rentals), small E-Z UPs, barbecues, and the buzz was palpable. More than 300 racecars, primarily front-drives, put on some great head-to-head racing with plenty of the quicker classes packed with 10- and 11-second cars. The look, the sound and even the e.t's were reminiscent of what Battle is all about.
As the event wound down, the finals in the bag and racers swapped back to street tires for the trip home, I looked around and thought about how long it had been since I'd enjoyed a drag event so much. For me it was about having a laugh with old friends, and the nostalgia of the event in general. One thing was for sure, Battle is still Battle and drag racing is far from withering. There was just as much passion and devotion in Fontana that day as there was at the first event 12 years ago.