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Published: Friday, 6/29/2007

Gladiators, with lead feet, to battle at 330 mph at Norwalk

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Rod Fuller, the points leader in the National Hot Rod Association's Top Fuel division, will compete at Norwalk. Rod Fuller, the points leader in the National Hot Rod Association's Top Fuel division, will compete at Norwalk.
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NORWALK - When two boiling masses of metal sit perched at the start of a long asphalt strip, ready to unleash a sensory barrage of speed, sound, intense vibration and the acrid aroma of burning tires - that's a drag race.

But for Rod Fuller, who is the points leader in the National Hot Rod Association's Top Fuel division heading into this weekend's event at Summit Racing Motorsports Park, the clash of two drivers at the controls of a pair of motorized monsters has a strong historical reference.

"I consider us to be the modern-day gladiators," said Fuller, who leads two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon by 35 points. Fuller has been consistent, advancing to at least the semifinal round in six of the 10 races this season.

"This sport is dangerous, fast and aggressive. People don't like to talk about it much, but at 330 miles an hour, you are putting it all on the line each time you go out there. There is a lot of danger involved."

Fuller and all the other top names in the drag racing world have descended on Norwalk for the Inaugural Summit Racing Equipment Nationals. Qualifying takes place today and tomorrow, with final eliminations in the pro divisions on Sunday.

"I've been doing this an awful long time, and for me, drag racing is the greatest show on wheels," Fuller said. "Every time I watch these cars, I am still amazed at the speed and power. When people come out and see what our show is all about, they always come back. There's nothing like it. Nothing that comes close."

There will be four pro classes competing this weekend, headlined by the Top Fuel dragsters - 7,000 horsepower supercharged machines that burn nitro methane - rocket fuel.

The Top Fuel cars are long and skinny with open cockpits, and they are capable of accelerating from zero to more than 330 mph and covering the quarter-mile race distance in under five seconds. One cylinder of a Top Fuel engine produces more horsepower than the entire engine of a NASCAR stock car.

The Pro Stocks are shaped like a stock factory vehicle, and have 500 cubic inch engines that burn gasoline, and are capable of producing about 1,250 horsepower. They achieve speeds of more than 200 miles per hour in under seven seconds.

In the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, the racing bikes look somewhat like a stock motorcycle, but with a long wheelie bar in the back. They can accelerate from zero to almost 200 mph in less than seven seconds.

Although lower circuits have raced at the facility in the recent past, Fuller said he was anxious to see the top tier dragsters from the NHRA perform at Norwalk.

"I've never been there, but my family has raced there and I've heard all about the great traditions and how passionate the fans are there," he said. "We're benefiting from great chemistry on this team right now, and that makes you really excited about that next event. You can have the most money, or the best car, and if things don't come together, you won't succeed. Fortunately, it's been working for us and I hope it continues."

Whit Bazemore, Fuller's teammate at David Powers Motorsports, has a history at the Norwalk track, and comes into the event ranked 10th in the Top Fuel points race.

"I ran Funny Cars there in 1989 and 1990, and it's good to be coming back since they've put so much into upgrading the facility," Bazemore said. "The very, very best in the sport of drag racing will be here. It's the most money and the most prestige on the line, so the competition should be fierce."

Tom Bradford is a motorcycle drag racing veteran of 15 years who competes on a 333 horsepower Pro Stock Buell. That potent chunk of metal produces three Gs of acceleration at the starting line, and recently earned Bradford a 6.98-second run and a clocking of 192 mph.

Bradford, who rides a camouflage covered bike in deference to his sponsor, The Sportsman Channel, goes to Norwalk hoping to find some magic.

"We've been searching for more power, and we've also got some new parts in for Norwalk, and we've got our sights set on the top side of the ladder there."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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