Southern California can rightly claim to be the birthplace of hot rodding, with dry lake racing, the first organized drag races, and cruising culture all tracing their roots to the lower third of the Golden State. But today, automotive performance is in crisis in the place where it first blossomed, due to increased regulation, suburban sprawl, and the plain fact that in many places, “rush hour” extends from 5 AM to 8 PM every day of the week.
We just wanted to find a place where we could run cars all out so people could really see how these cars really stack up. – Ryan Fisher
Just this year, enthusiasts have lost access to two different racing venues – the eighth-mile Irwindale Drag Strip went dark in January, closed due to the insolvency of the company renting the property (though it appears it may be back in action soon), and the quarter-mile Auto Club Dragway in Fontana shut down indefinitely due to noise concerns. Even the mighty Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the beating heart of NHRA drag racing and one of the very first professional strips in the world, has seen its schedule cut from racing nearly every weekend of the year to a paltry two NHRA national events and a smattering of lesser races, thanks to the encroachment of homes in the surrounding area (never mind that the racing has been going on there since 1953…)
Airstrip Attack attracted an eclectic mix of exotics, tuner cars, and domestic muscle.
So what do you do when you own a car that will tickle 200 MPH, but you never have the chance to break the speed limit thanks to traffic, and all the legal places to wind it out going away? If you’re the guys at Shift-S3ctor, you return to hot rodding’s routes – clear the airplanes off a remote runway, pair up cars, and flag them off two at a time. In addition to their more conventional track days and drift events, Shift-S3ctor recently kicked off their Airstrip Attack at Trona Airport, located in the California high desert a few hours north and east of Los Angeles.
Trona isn’t exactly what you would call an “active” airport. You won’t see any business jets, Jet Ranger helicopters, or even piston twins shading the slowly decaying tarmac, and a cluster of ramshackle hangars and sheds huddles together at the midpoint of the 5,910 foot long, 60 foot wide single runway.
Like the nearby town of Trona, California, the airport gives off a feeling of better days gone by, and to look at it now is to wonder at what optimism drove the people who built it in the first place, so far from everything but an enormous salt mine just to the south. Peering through the gaps in the hangar doors, you see glimpses of what might be aircraft parts wrapped tightly in ancient blankets that guard against the dust that sifts through the many holes that time has opened.
But for one spring Saturday, the rundown airport came back to life, with dozens of tuner cars, exotics, and American muscle parked side by side, waiting for a chance to run flat out down Runway 17. Broken by horsepower into two run groups, drivers were on the honor system, writing their estimated crank HP on their windows, and arranging their own pairing.
The actual racing was 50’s-simple; from a rolling start, the cars accelerated at part throttle to a start cone a few hundred feet down the asphalt, pacing each other at whatever speed they’d agreed upon, then hit the throttle for a wide-open blast to the cone marking the finish line a half-mile distant. No Christmas tree, no photocells, no timeslips – just run what ya brung grudge racing.
There's not much aviation going on these days at the Trona airport...
Everything Old is New Again
That’s a significant difference from outwardly-similar events like the Texas Mile – while both take place on airport runways, the commonality ends there. Standing mile racing involves cars sent off one at a time to run against the clock, with rigorous categorization and inspection, and with good reason; just search for “Texas mile crash” and you’ll understand.
Mercedes vs. Ferrari isn't a matchup you're likely to see at your local dragstrip's test and tune night, but it was par for the course at Trona.
The half-mile running start Airstrip Attack has more to offer than just the advantage of running door to door against an opponent, though. The shorter run means that even cars boasting four-digit horsepower are less likely to exceed the limits of tire construction, track conditions, and driver talent, and the rolling start format is far less abusive to these often extremely expensive cars than a quarter-mile dragstrip launch. In an effort to keep things simple, Shift-S3ctor has (inadvertently or intentionally) recaptured the early days of straight line racing – The late, great Wally Parks would have felt right at home watching cars flagged off to chase the horizon, two by two.
Shift-S3ctor's Ryan Fisher addresses the assembled multitude at the morning drivers' meeting.
“We know that roll racing is happening all over the place, and that pretty much everyone who’s ever had a fast car has wanted to run it on an airstrip,” explains Shift-S3ctor’s Ryan Fisher. “We just wanted to find a place where we could run cars all out so people could really see how these cars really stack up.” The end result is an event that lets cars that would otherwise never get a chance to stretch their legs run to their full potential in a safe, controlled environment. Fisher says that this event sold out quickly, even at $225 per entry, and the success (and lack of unwanted drama) of the initial effort will mean more to come in the future.
Stephanie Cemo of La Jolla, California captured first place in the Tuner Shootout for the 'Blue Group' consisting of cars making up to 699 horsepower. Her Corvette ZR1 was enhanced with one additional pony on top of the 638 provided by the factory.
One lone Acura Integra stood out like a sore thumb among the heavy hitters at Trona, but a beefy turbo setup meant he wasn't totally outgunned in the Blue run group.
The gathering of horsepower at Trona was so extraordinary that it drew the attention of the Canadian armed forces, despite being more than 1,200 miles from the border.
Matt Farah (left), formerly co-host of the ill-fated 'Car Show,' was on hand to shoot a segment for 'Tuned' and 'The Smoking Tire.' Our good friend Ryne Cunningham was also on site to drive several customer cars prepped by his shop, Cunningham Motorsports.
Pro skater Josh Kalis brought out his twin-turbo Camaro, but issues with clutch pedal components limited him to a single run. Note the window chalk on the cars in the background - those numbers indicate estimated horsepower. With the number of AWD cars in attendance, and the relative rarity of AWD chassis dynos, we are inclined to believe that many of these figures were on the optimistic side...
powerTV videographer Aaron Hodgkin gets a time out... Yes, the hangars are just as creepy in real life as they look in the pictures.
1st: Chris N. Switzer Performance E900 Nissan GTR
2nd Tito H. BBi Autosport 996 911 Turbo
3rd/4th (not in any particular order) Paulie T. Cunningham Motorsports C6 Z06 and Nico R. Nissan GTR tuned by Cobb.
Tier 1 (700-1,000+ horsepower)
1st Tito H. BBi Autosport 996 911 Turbo
2nd Ryne C. Cunningham Motorsports C5 Z06
Tier 2 (400-699 horsepower)
1st Stephanie C. HG Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
2nd Drew J. ESS Tuning VT-625 BMW M3