XENIA — Rich Hanna drives his jet engine-powered First Strike funny car at 20-25 weekend drag racing exhibitions each year, but the experience at Kil-Kare Dragway is a unique one that he looks forward to each time he participates in the annual Night of Fire drag racing exhibition.
“I love this track. It’s kinda old school in that the fans are so close to the track,” Hanna, of Enfield, Conn. said, moments before taking his first run down Kil-Kare’s 1/8-mile concrete dragstrip. “When we’re doing what we call our Fire Show, on the starting line, we’re able to look at people’s eyes and see their reaction in the grandstands. We see them hootin’ and hollering, and pumping their fists in the air. When we see that, it makes us just want to do this even more.”
Hanna, 44, races with Hanna Motorsports teammate Ken Hall, a 47-year-old Parker Ford, Pa. native who drives the Top Secret jet engine-powered funny car. The two grew up in racing together, watching their dads race Altered Gassers and dragsters. They’ve been racing jet funny cars together for nearly 20 years now.
“The acceleration in a jet car is greater from about half track to the finish line,” Hall said. “In a nostalgia funny car, you feel the acceleration at the first half of the track, and then the car becomes more stable and calms down at the finish. With the nostalgia cars, you’re driving it to hang on at the start, then you get control of it. For the jet cars, you’re good at first, then you’re REALLY going at the end. The acceleration is completely different from about half track on.”
Hanna says whether the team is racing on a shorter 1/8-mile track like Kil-Kare or a longer 1/4-mile track, safety and care is put into every run. He packs his dual parachutes himself.
“That’s probably the most important job on the car. It’s like packing a chute for a skydiver. It’s what we do: Horizontal skydiving,” Hanna said. “(Jet cars) are very light, they only weigh about 1,350 pounds, so we’re feeling almost 4 G’s pushing us back in the seat and a jet car is pulling G’s the whole way down the track. Then when we pull the chutes open, you’re hit with about negative-6 G’s … We always say it’s a good feeling when you know you’re going to stop.”
Hanna is the jet-powered funny car World Speed Record Holder with a top speed of 295.08 mph. He’s the only jet-powered funny car driver to turn runs in excess of 290 mph, a feat he’s done three times.
Cars full of racing fans were lined up 20-30 deep waiting to still get into the Kil-Kare Dragway grounds, as the first Night of Fire exhibition runs took place before sundown. Parking spaces grew tough to come by as fans swarmed the Kil-Kare grounds. An estimated capacity crowd of 2,000-3,000 race fans enjoyed the evening’s festivities.
Kil-Kare’s annual Night of Fire drag racing exhibition provided jet-powered funny cars like the Hanna Motorsports duo, the jet “trains” of Californians K.C. and Linda Jones, plus four alcohol-powered funny cars from the Great Lakes Nostalgia Funny Car Circuit. Dayton area driver Eric Larson made passes in his Boss Bird nitro-powered Pontiac Firebird funny car, and Australian transplant Bazz Young drove his Down-Under Thunder Chevy Camaro SS funny car.
Junior dragsters and several other classes of drag racers were also on hand to run Test & Tune runs.