Depending on what part of the world you’re in this type of drag racing is called semi-truck racing, or 18-wheeler racing, but seeing as we’re based in the UK we’re going to go right ahead and call it HGV racing. Basically, it’s exactly what it says on the tin and is motor racing that involves modified versions of heavy tractor units or heavy goods vehicles on racing circuits.
Although it sounds like it’s a brand new type of sport, this isn’t the case as it actually officially began in the good ol’ US of A at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in June 1979, which was in fact featured in the opening scene in the film Smokey and the Bandit II.
To begin with, the sport was sanctioned under the American Truck Racing Association in 1979 to then sell in 1982 and become the Great American Truck Racing (GATR) circuit.
Originally, these early races took place on dirt tracks and paved ovals and the trucks that were used were just your standard working person’s truck. They had tandem rear axles and ordinary street tyres but those competing could get them up to speeds of 150mph on a straight. Gnarly stuff. At the Texas World Speedway, a nutter called Charlie Baker drove one of these trucks and set a closed course record of 132mph in 1982.
The series was bought again after 1986 and (thankfully) saw the transformation of the HGV’s from working vehicles to trucks that could safely compete at high speeds. The bodies were highly modified as they were cut and lowered and they lost their tag axle, which made them much lighter.
Despite the fact that people claim the last sanctioned GATR race in the states was in 1993 at Rolling Wheels NY, there have been plenty of HGV drag races – but surprisingly most of the action has been found in England.
Something about this sport has grasped the attention of racing fans in Britain, it now has an organising body of the British Truck Racing Association, which was founded in 1984 and the sport’s profile has hugely increased with the likes of Truck Fest.
This festival of sorts is now in its 36th year and it’s one of the biggest commercial vehicle events in Europe, for a look at what you can expect, check out their video of Smokey Big Rigs Burnouts and Drag Racing from the 2013 Truck Fest:
In order for things like Truck Fest and other festivals to be created, sporting regulations had to come into play and all of these races are now controlled by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).
FIA doesn’t just look out for the safety of those who are serious thrillseekers, it also puts restrictions on the vehicles and has a set of rules for competitors to follow to make sure the HGVs conform to the layout and original style of the truck. Basically there aren’t any crazy modifications allowed to happen, it might be drag racing, but it’s not at the level of a Monster Truck rally – although those are pretty cool too.
Standard practise for a HGV race, the maximum speed restricted to 160mph and the trucks must have a minimum weight of 5,500kg to prevent tipping. Races last between eight to 12 laps, which can largely depend on if there are any collisions or not – we should probably say here that driver injuries are actually very rare, it’s the proximity of the vehicles that makes them bump into each other!
Nowadays, drivers have to hold a race license, which is issued by the Motor Sports Association, this is a far cry from the dirt road races of the early 80s. One thing that really differentiates this sport from others, is that HGV racing vehicles look almost exactly like their road-going versions, although to be honest, there’s not much disguising them really, is there?
For this reason, a lot of the trucks you’ll see at a drag race will probably look familiar to the HGVs that you see on the motorway. Interested in catching the British Championships and other race events? You’ll be wanting to turn your attention to the British Automobile Club that holds the power to organise these most extreme of races.
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