The year was 2002 and I felt as if I were on the dark side of the moon… but the place actually was Pacific Junction, Iowa, where Mid-America Motorplex was hosting heads-up drag races in the dead of night. I had taken a totally unsuitable car (my 1974 Saab Sonett) and dubiously suitable photo gear (a Canon 7s rangefinder camera, a 50mm f/0.95 lens, and a couple of rolls of black-and-white film) to explore this alien landscape. This is what I saw.
The flag stands stiffly in the pit lane as competitors gather for late-night, heads-up drag races in Pacific Junction, Iowa.
You select your own opponent in heads-up drag racing, so sizing up the competition is crucial.
Cars vary widely in age and condition, so last-second repairs are a frequent occurrence.
Any car can race if it can pass a basic safety inspection. I was told this 1956 Chevrolet is a regular competitor.
72 MOPAR is another oldie, but still quick.
I feel as if I’ve brought a knife to a gunfight. My 1974 Saab Sonett is an unlikely drag car.
The way heads-up racing works is simple. You find a willing opponent and pull your cars into line side-by-side to await your chance to race.
A starter stands at the head of the line. He checks that each driver is ready, then raises his hands. When he drops them, the race is on.
Idling in the hot night air, a Mitsubishi’s radiator lets go, releasing a plume of steam. It drops out of line, and everyone behind moves up a place.
Men plus women plus cars means there’s a lot more going on than racing alone.
In the near-dark behind the grandstand, young hearts are on the prowl.
Known up and down the pit lane as Mustang Girl, she’s a serious racer who built up this car herself.