what a drag

Illustration by Derek BaconCar and Driver

From the November 2021 issue of Car and Driver.

“If you decided to run, I wouldn’t be able to catch you.” The cop lays a tattooed forearm on the window­sill of the McLaren 765LT I’m in as I glance toward his pursuit vehicle, an unmarked black 2020 Camaro SS. “No, you wouldn’t,” I reply. I’m not being cheeky. It is just a fact. While the Camaro is fast, the McLaren is a 755-hp carbon-fiber lawn dart, fun and menace never farther apart than the distance from the accelerator to the floorboard.

But I’m not in trouble (yet). I’m sitting in the staging lanes at South Carolina’s Darlington Dragway, waiting to try to set a new personal quarter-mile record. My best, 10.9 seconds, came long ago in a Hennessey Hammer Wagon—a 700-something-hp second-gen Cadillac CTS-V wagon—riding on Mickey Thompson drag radials. I’ve come close since, but getting a 10-second quarter requires the alignment of the stars—humidity, traction, managing heat soak. Or possession of a 765LT.

When you propose taking someone’s $429,190 car to a drag strip, you might expect them to say they’d rather you didn’t. McLaren, though, patched me through to England for tips on wringing the quickest pass out of a 765LT. Dave Steer, senior press-fleet engineer, talked me through the optimum settings: engine in Track mode, chassis in Track or Sport, rear tires aired down to 29 or 30 psi. Use launch control because it will adjust itself as you keep making runs. Leave the rear wing retracted for low drag. “The tires start getting to their optimum grip levels at about 110 degrees,” Steer says. Can I beat 10.9 seconds? “Oh, that should be easy,” he says. “We’ve had customers get into the nines.”

The cop, there to ensure everyone keeps their racin’ to the track, points to the tower and says, “I think they’re ready for you.” I pull around to see an ATV towing a sprayer, prepping the lane with traction compound. I’ll get the first run of the night. I do a quick rolling burnout to warm up the tires. “You want pro tree or regular?” the guy at the line asks. I confidently reply “Regular,” as if I know the difference. When the second staging light goes yellow, I hit the launch-control button and mash the brake and accelerator simultaneously. In the time it takes to build boost, the lights flash down and I pop off the brake.

The rear tires chirp; crushing acceleration follows. On public roads, the 765LT is a candidate for wheelspin well into triple-digit speeds. Nail the throttle from 50 to 100 mph and in the rearview mirror you can see twin stripes being painted behind you. But here, on a warm track soaked in traction compound, the McLaren simply digs in. I keep the throttle pinned past the finish and see 155 mph before I hit the brakes. Did I get into the nines?

At the booth where they hand you the time slip, the woman there looks flummoxed. “It didn’t print,” she says, radioing the tower. “They said the equipment broke. Guess you have to go again!” Okay, fine.

In the next run, there’s a long moment of wheelspin off the line before the car hooks up. Result: 10.7 seconds at 139 mph. A new (personal) record, and one that will stand, because the track gets slick as the traction compound wears away. The McLaren starts blowing up its tires at the eighth-mile mark, giving a big tail wag at more than 100 mph. It would be more exciting only with a live alligator in the car.

The next time I break into the 10s, it might be in a drama-free all-wheel-drive EV. Which, sure, will be fun. But running a 10.7 shouldn’t be humdrum. Experiencing the weight of gravity in the seatback should be a little scary. It should feel like an achievement. In the 765LT, it always does. Whether the time slip prints or not.

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