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‘Fire Breathing Monsters’ documentary gives up close and personal look at NHRA drag racing

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A new documentary does an outstanding job of capturing the essence, beauty — and oh yes, the deafening sound — of  NHRA drag racing.

“Fire Breathing Monsters” chronicles the action — primarily in Top Fuel and Funny Car — in February’s season-opening NHRA Winternationals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway. Although just over seven minutes long, FBM features extensive on-track action, interviews with top drivers like Tony Schumacher, John Force, Ron Capps and Antron Brown, and shows why the sport is so popular with racing fans.

If you’re a fan of IndyCar or NASCAR, you’re practically standing still compared to the speeds seen in NHRA’s top two classes, where drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car routinely cover the typical 1,000-foot dragstrip at over 320 mph and in under four seconds. It’s no wonder, to borrow a line from the sport’s marketing department, “NHRA drag racing is simply the fastest sport on the planet.”

That is oh, so true.

Drag racing has long been a popular subject for filmmakers, dating back to the sport’s early days in the late 1950s.

And then last season, the release of “Snake and Mongoo$e” — the true story of the sport’s biggest rivalry between former drivers Tom McEwen and Don “Snake” Prudhomme — proved very popular for drag racing fans young and old.

Brent Thomas, who directed the nitro-methane charged documentary, had been a long-time drag racing fan before he was even asked to oversee the making of FBM.

“It’s a thrill when you get the opportunity to relive one of the special pleasures of your youth,” Thomas said in an NHRA media release.  “As a kid, Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach was where we spent our Friday nights.  The sport has since grown to become an unexpected exhibition of technical awesomeness, but that added power of nostalgia is still like traveling back in time for me.

“My assignment was to point the cameras at anything that looked interesting and helped explain the attraction of this remarkable motorsport. A critical part of this was hours of interviews with drivers and their crews. By the end, we shot 24 hours of content – the digital equivalent to 140,000 feet of film.”

Check out the documentary below:

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.