Two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Frank Hawley’s love of fast cars and drag racing comes from growing up in southern Ontario with four sisters – actually, it was thanks to their boyfriends.
“I had four older sisters – this was back in the muscle car era – and all of them had boyfriends and they had lots of fast cars and they used to come around the house,” remembered Hawley in a recent interview. “That’s how I got interested in fast and powerful cars. One of them was actually the first one to take me to a drag race when I was 9 years old and I saw a couple Top Fuel cars run and thought that’s absolutely fabulous.”
His drag racing career began in Ontario at tracks like St. Thomas Motorsports Park, Cayuga Dragway and Grand Bend Dragway. “They were our three local race tracks, and then we got into racing, having some cars, and we would travel into Michigan and New York and Ohio,” said Hawley.
Hawley was licensed to drive dragsters at age 16, and his racing career brought him two NHRA titles (1982 and 1983 – Funny Car), induction into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame and, most recently, induction into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame earlier this year. He is one of only 14 drivers with victories in both NHRA nitro categories – Top Fuel and Funny Car – and he was named one of the NHRA’s top 50 drivers of all-time during its 50th anniversary celebration.
While still driving competitively in 1985, Hawley got the idea to start a drag racing school. “I went to a road racing school, learned how to drive some Formula Fords and thought, ‘Wow, that was very cool, that’s a great program,'” remembered Hawley. “At the time, that was about all you could drive was road race stuff, and I wondered if anybody would be interested in learning to drag race properly with good equipment, so we got a few investors together and some equipment and made a deal with the NHRA to use the track in Gainesville, Florida.”
Over the years, Hawley estimates around half of today’s NHRA stars – including Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight, Brittany and Courtney Force, Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown – have passed through the classroom doors at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School, which now conducts licensing courses and programs at seven drag strips around the country. One of the school’s newest programs is the Dragster Adventure program, where students can drive a 10-second, 130-mph dragster without having to complete the licensing course.
“(It’s) a half-day course, it doesn’t get your license, the car is a 10-second, 130 mph dragster, and it’s really exciting to drive,” explained Hawley. “If somebody takes that program and wants to stick around and make it a full day, we give people the opportunity to do some side-by-side competition in the afternoon.”
Licensing courses, of which the Super Comp/Super Gas course is the most often scheduled, are a combination of on-track experience and classroom learning. “The people are in the cars and leaving the start line at 10 o’clock the first day of the class, because you have no idea of what it is that you’re going to have difficulty with when you drive the car,” said Hawley. “We try to take the emotion out of the driving…when you get too worked up, too fired up, too anything, your performance goes downhill, and a lot of people are pretty intimidated when they first drive the cars. We’ve got a lot of material that I’ve written over the years…it’s a lot of psychology, which sounds really boring to some folks, but almost everybody thinks it’s one of their favorite parts of the classes. It’s about human performance and how we think and act and behave, what we can and can’t control and basically figure out how to program ourselves to get the best possible performance we can when we need it.”
Hawley believes that his past experiences as a driver, broadcaster and author have led him to the most satisfying part of his life so far – that of an instructor. “I’ve done a lot of pretty cool things, when I was driving a car, and the broadcasting stuff, writing books, everything is kind of unique,” said Hawley. “But to take all of those experiences and share them with our customers, I think that is what I really like doing now. If I hadn’t done all those other things, I don’t think I would have anywhere near the background to teach the classes and, what goes along with that, a lot of really good stories over the years. All of those have led me to enjoy what I’m doing right now, as much as anything I’ve ever done.”
Source: Frank Hawley personal interview, April 21, 2014