When it comes to nitro, Burton knows better

August, 5, 2009
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There I was on Wednesday afternoon, standing among several hundred people on the corner of Trade and Tryon streets with an index finger in each ear.

We all looked pretty silly, especially the father bent over a stroller with fingers poked into the tiny ears of his infant son. Or daughter. I'm really not sure.

It was like we all were waiting for a bomb to drop. At least that was the first thing that came to mind after watching the 1970 movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!" from the treadmill earlier that morning.

In a way, we were. NHRA star Doug Herbert was about to fire up his Top Fuel dragster.

We were warned it would be loud, more so than the ear-popping sound that comes out of a Sprint Cup car if you happen to be standing too close in the garage. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, the engine fired. It was loud, but not nearly as loud as I anticipated. I was about ready to risk life and limb by removing my fingers when the real explosion came.

Herbert revved the engine, sending flames and exhaust so far out the side of the chrome pipes that it dried the sweat spots on my shirt. And yes, I jumped. I nearly landed in the arms of an innocent woman walking behind me.

Tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Apparently, this is the reaction you get when burning nitromethane. No, not the stuff suspended Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield has been accused of taking. That is methamphetamine.

Nitromethane, according to my Google search, is "a slightly viscous, high polar liquid commonly used as a solvent in a variety of industrial applications."

It also is used as a racing fuel for dragsters.

And it is viscous.

Cup driver Jeff Burton, one of the celebrities invited to this event promoting the September NHRA race at the zMax Dragway at Lowe's Motor Speedway and the Chase race at LMS, was smarter than the rest of us. As soon as somebody mentioned Herbert was moving toward the dragster he moved far away.

"I've been around a few of those before to know better," he said.

I should have known to hang with Burton. He's a veteran, although a fan did throw him for a bit of a loop earlier by asking if he could get back into the top three in points this season.

Had Burton been Tony Stewart he would have given a smart-aleck answer or maybe made a noise louder than Herbert's dragster. Instead, he was polite, doing his best to tell the fan that his chances of being in the top three were about as good as beating Herbert's dragster to the end of Trade Street in his No. 31 stock car.

Here's the math: Burton is 17th in points. He is 688 points out of third place. His only chance at getting to third is to be among the top 12 who make the Chase, which means making up 262 points over the next five weeks before the field is set.

Burton is smart enough to know that won't happen, just as he is smart enough to know where to stand when a dragster is fired up.

Note to LMS officials: Next time you hold such event, please pass out earplugs.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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