Fort Worth's Texas Motor Speedway is known for big NASCAR events, but every Friday for six weeks in the summertime, its track is open to amateurs.
The speedway's Friday night drag races draws racing enthusiasts from all over North Texas — and some from hundreds of miles away — to try their luck.
It's sweltering, even at 9 o'clock at night when the racing is about to get started at the sprawling track way up at the top of far north Fort Worth. But there's a breeze, and Chris Medina of Fort Worth says there's nowhere he’d rather be.
"It's Friday night, you've got racing going on, you've got fast cars," Medina says. "It can't get any better."
Medina has made the drive up to the Texas Motor Speedway for three summers of the amateur drag racing series. It's a chance to hang out with friends and families and check out the cars.
Tonight, he's showing off his tricked-out Dodge Charger in the show and shine competition, which is like a beauty contest for cars. It's definitely not for racing, he says.
"She gets babied, she gets pampered, she gets a wash every week," Medina says. "We call [the car] Goliath."
Safer alternative to the streets
Up in the grandstands, kids run up and down the steps. Families cart in coolers of food and drinks, or eat hot dogs and other concessions. Down inside the track, there are hundreds of cars and trucks and their drivers — some to race, others to show off. Racing fans of all ages meander throughout to see the vehicles up close or line up against the railings to get a good view of the track.
Ned Brown comes to race his Mustang, though he says it's usually a humbling experience.
"I'm definitely not the fastest out here," Brown says. "There's some amazing vehicles that people have put a lot of money and a lot of time into. But it's for fun."
The concept of a drag race is pretty straight forward. Two cars pull up to the start line. When they get the signal, they punch it, barreling down the track for an eighth of a mile as fast as they can. First to the finish line wins. Winners face off with each other until there's just one left.
All kinds of vehicles show up to race, divvied up into seven different categories. That’s how things are kept competitive, according to Gavin Faretra, a spokesman for the Texas Motor Speedway, when drivers show up in "everything from a Chevy pickup to a Lamborghini."
The race track started running amateur drag nights a decade ago, partly as a safer alternative to illegal street racing. The idea was to offer up the same thrill in an appropriate environment.
"We want them to race," Faretra says. "We just want them to do it in a legal manner. And this gives them an opportunity to do that."
Fast cars and family
Just a few dozen drivers showed up that first season. Now, more than 300 cars and trucks compete each Friday when the races are on, sometimes racing until two in the morning.
One of those cars belongs to the Jenkins family of Lewisville. Michael Jenkins races while his wife, Lisa, and their two girls cheer him on. Cheyenne, who says proudly that she's 12 and a half, enjoys the races because they make great content for her YouTube and Instagram channels.
Her 8-year-old sister Josie chimes in: "My favorite part about it is just watching all the beautiful car colors just race each other."
Blue is her favorite, she says.
Her dad lost his race but says he’ll be back with better tires.
"We'll be out next week," he says. "I'm going to win one of them."
Even though it's nearly midnight by now, you can hardly tell under the bright lights of the Texas Motor Speedway. Cars are still lining up to take their turn on the track. Most of the fans are still in the stands. They're ready, it seems, to stay until the last car crosses the finish line and the night's winners are declared.