NHRA’s Golden oldie: At 83, Chris Karamesines still reaching for 300 mph in Top Fuel dragster

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana – He looks at least 20 years younger than he is, drives close to 300 mph with regularity and oftentimes outperforms drivers that are 60 years or younger than he is.

Wait, that’s a misprint, right?

Nope, Chris Karamesines is still battling the 1,000-foot standard in the NHRA, a war he’s waged since 1950.

This year is Karamesines’ 65th year in the sport.

For those of you who may need a calculator to figure it out, the 83-year-old Karamesines is the oldest active competitor in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

One of the most legendary drivers in the history of the sport, the Chicago resident turns 84 on November 13 and is already preparing for his 66th season in 2016.

“I love the sport, enjoy what I’m doing and as long as I can do it, I’ll keep on doing it,” Karamesines said Sunday while attempting to qualify for the 61st Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. “That’s basically where it’s at. I just enjoy racing and being with racing people. I’ve been around them all my life.

“As for next year, it’s a matter of finding people to work for me. We’ll run maybe six to eight races, mostly close to home and enjoy ourselves.”

The man known by his colorful nickname of the “Golden Greek” has outlasted every one of his peers on the drag strip. Even “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who is also 83-years old, has scaled back to race electric dragsters that run only about 170-180 mph.

The key for Karamesines is staying in good shape, both physically and mentally.

“(The G-forces) really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “One thing about it is we have to go through a full physical test and they have to find you in good shape.”

If Karamesines had a dollar for every time he’s been asked when he’ll retire, he’d likely be a millionaire.

“If I have any trouble, I’ll get out and have somebody else drive it,” he said matter-of-factly.”

But there’s no question about the kind of incredible career Karamesines has enjoyed.

He was the first driver to hit 200 mph – back in 1960. He was one of the greatest barnstorming drivers in the 1950s through the 1970s. There was never a track or opposing driver that Karamesines couldn’t beat.

“The sport has probably helped me out,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since 1950. That’s quite a bit of time. Traveling around the country, doing 50 races a year back in the old days.”

Reports of Karamesines potentially retiring a the end of this season are like Mark Twain: they’ve been greatly exaggerated.

“No, I never really considered that,” he said. “I’ve never decided to quit.”

Unfortunately, Karamesines failed to qualify Saturday and Sunday and will not be one of the 16 drivers who will race in Monday’s final eliminations of the U.S. Nationals.

Still, he’s having the time of his life. He’s doing what he loves to do, driving a car that was built by legendary team owner and fellow Chicago native Don Schumacher – who then gave it to Karamesines as a gift.

It’s probably the best car and most state-of-the-art car that Karamesines has driven in decades.

“We’ve had the car for almost two years,” Schumacher said. “It was really nice what he did for me, putting me in a real nice car. It’s a pleasure to drive and I feel very comfortable in it.”

In perhaps one of the greatest ironies in any form of motorsport, even though he’s been racing in NHRA for more than 60 years, Karamesines has reached the final round three times, but has never won a national event.

But back in the 1950s through 1970s, he won numerous races in the International Hot Rod Association, American Drag Racing Association and American Hot Rod Association, including winning AHRA championship in 1959.

Named one of NHRA’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 2001, Karamesines’ career best elapsed time is 3.897 seconds, while his best career speed is 310.63 mph.

If there are some who think Karamesines has lost a few mph, think again: he reached the quarterfinals at Bristol Dragway last season.

Yet despite never winning a NHRA race, Karamesines has no regrets.

“I’ve done pretty much everything,” Karamesines said. “I guess the 1950s were the best, and then the 1960s and 1970s.”

Then, he added with a slight smirk under his trademark mustache, “After that, it gets complicated as it goes on and it cost more money. But it was a lot more fun back then.”

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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”