The noise in Northants

Happy Finnish drag fans at Santa Pod

There are two sounds on this earth that can make me spontaneously cry. There’s the sound of a great operatic soprano mid-aria and there’s the sound of a top fuel dragster mid-quarter mile.

The thing is, they’re both big sounds and they both bypass the usual emotional circuitry to make people cry or laugh or stand and shout. They both work some kind of endocrinal magic and produce a physical reaction without going through all that boring build-up. Opera and drag racing both short-circuit the brain and go straight to the baser organs (the gut? The liver?): I suppose it’s fight or flight or something – certainly something hormonal.

Look around you at an opera audience or at a drag strip crowd and you’ll see the same thing: involuntary facial expressions, tears, smiles, something like ecstasy. At the end of a five-second quarter mile you’ll hear spontaneous laughter, swearing, clapping, whooping and shouting.

Like I said, at the drag strip it’s all about the noise. Trust me: this is the biggest, deepest, most physical noise you will ever hear: a wild, crackling, grunting, noise that sounds more animal than mechanical. You have to hear it to believe it. Hear it once and you’ll understand what brings all those other people out to the retired military airfields of the world to listen to it. It’s an auditory drug.

Quite mad. Quite decadent and backward (outsized internal combustion engines? Nitro-methane? Deep-fried food?) but also some kind of cultural apogee: standing on the grass bank watching it all go off, you feel you’re watching the final days of the blue collar gasoline cult. This is where the (big, dumb) car will come to die.

We were up at Santa Pod in sunny Northants yesterday for the qualifying rounds of what they call The Main Event. We heard the noise (and I made a pathetic attempt to record it). I took some photos, obviously. You should get up there this season if you get a chance: they make a big effort to welcome everyone: kids get in for nothing, you can get right in among the cars and their drivers (almost all of whom are amateurs), there are monster trucks and air displays and a Wall of Death and the people are unbelievably nice (and you’ll meet a lot of sunburnt Finns).

I found a lot of old photos of dragsters, some videos and some most amazing sound files that you ought to run through your home cinema for best effect. Also a predictably superb definition of the sport from Wikipedia.