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Hollywood and the Drag Strip

Frank Hawley Drag Racing School: It’s not About the Car


Words by Jennifer Caputo-Armstrong

Photos by Richard Kratz

[Editor’s note: Frank Hawley is a two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion, winning the nitro funny car titles back-to-back in 1982 and 1983. In 1985 he founded the drag racing school that bears his name. In the ensuing 33 years, Hawley has become the resource for drivers and even crew to learn how to drag race or how to drag race better. Top racers of all types and classes have been through his school at one time or another including NHRA Fuel Funny Car world champion Jack Beckman, who has taught and consulted at the school. Just about everyone we know that has been through the Hawley school’s various classes has nothing but praise for the man and his teachings.


When the need to license Jennifer Caputo-Armstrong, the new driver of the Mopar Max Maulin’ Magnum, arose we naturally thought of Frank. One aspect of his school that was perfect for us is that you can arrange with them to license in your own car instead of a school-owned car. This was perfect for us as we wanted Jen to learn our car’s unique procedures. So, arrangements were made to haul the race car to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the class.


There are men who get your attention by possessing a large and imposing stature or by having a loud nature. Frank is not one of those men. Rather, he is a medium height man who is fit and trim and very light on his feet—he walks with an efficient and seemingly effortless gait while maintaining a ramrod straight posture. Not the posture of a person trying to stand straight and tall, but rather that of a man who has spent a life time standing tall and proud until the point where it’s the natural posture of the man’s muscle memory.


Frank talks softly and gets straight to the point. Jack Beckman once told us that Frank’s parents gave him the most appropriate name possible, the man is very frank. Frank speaks in a clear and precise tone with no wasted words. Throughout our two days with him it became apparent that he learned long ago not to waste time with superfluous communication. He tells the students like it is with no animosity or malice—just the facts, delivered without embellishment or concern for “feelings.”


The classroom lecture for Jen’s class occurred in the media room of the LVMS tower with the two school Super Comp dragsters and two Super Gas Pontiacs pitting and prepping under the arch by the starting line. They were joined by our Maggi and a new COPO Camaro that also had a driver licensing in their own car. The track had a series of cones placed to mark various points for starting and stopping burnouts and distances to run at different points in the licensing procedure.


Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School travels the country throughout the year as well as at their home track in Gainesville, FL. The Drag Racing School offers licensing classes, personalized instruction, “The Dragster Experience” which is an affordable way to drive a dragster without licensing, and more. See the Contact Information at the end of this article to learn more. Now, on to Jen’s column.]


I’m an Alumni of UNLV so I always love visiting my Alma Mater, getting a new sweatshirt and seeing how the town has grown. As I arrived in town on Oct. 11, 2017, it felt like it was the first day of college again. I was there to attend school but not just any school…the FRANK HAWLEY school of Drag Racing!


I was more than eager to get behind the wheel of Maggi the Magnum and see what she could do because by this time all I’d done was unload her from the trailer and idle her through the pits.


We gathered in the classroom for the first session. The seats were arranged in two half circle rows all with name tags. I found the seat with my name on it, settled in and took a look around me. There were all kinds of people attending the class; different professions, ages, sexes and goals. Most having drag raced before but a few like me who were honest-to-goodness beginners.


The classroom and track sessions were structured very well. The track sessions were, of course, more exhilarating as you are physically participating and getting pinned to the back of your seat, but I was also excited by the, soon to be found, valuable lessons learned in the classroom.


I really enjoyed listening to what Mr. Hawley had to say. Not only did he speak of the fundamentals of drag racing but also the fundamentals of life and being a good person. Certainly not the norm in a driving school but then again there’s nothing I could see “normal” about Frank Hawley.


Getting to watch video of my performance and talking about it with Mr. Hawley and the class proved invaluable.  It didn't take long to realize Mr. Hawley is an amazingly observant individual; he doesn’t miss a thing so don't think for a second you're gonna fool him! A fantastic quality to possess and one that I very much appreciate; I respect this quality in any setting but especially in this one. I was not only there to learn how to drag race but also to earn my competition license.


This meant I not only had to learn how to drive Maggi, the nearly 1,000 horsepower Magnum, I had to make her do four quarter-mile passes under the designated time of 10.05, the altitude adjusted Super Gas index for Las Vegas required for my S/G license.


To be honest…at this point I still do not believe what’s happening. I’ve signed on to something I know nothing about, driving a car I’ve never driven, in a sport I know little to nothing about, and loving every minute of it!


As my team owner Richard Kratz, Editor-Publisher of this magazine, has stated numerous times, “We had to get the needle in quickly to get her hooked.” Well, Mr. Kratz…I’m happy to report that it worked!


I hadn’t even been down the track but between Richard’s excitement and listening to Mr. Hawley’s philosophies I knew immediately that I had a problem…a serious problem.


By the time I got on the track for my first pass I had worked myself up with so much excitement that I completely messed up. Which by the way, even though I messed it up… it was pretty darn thrilling! I was so consumed with doing the procedure right that I completely missed the lights!


I seriously think I blinked and that made the difference. First lesson learned but certainly NOT the best first impression to either my sponsor Richard Kratz or Mr. Frank Hawley.  Both these men, being seasoned professionals, completely understood that there’s a lot to think about as you’re preparing to go down the track. I’m completely confident that once I’ve got more seat time everything will become second nature. At this point I still had to think of each step of the procedure and look to do it.


Fortunately, the first pass didn’t count as it wasn’t the full quarter mile. There’s a six-pass process to earn an NHRA license, with progressively longer and faster passes. In Frank’s school, the last three passes must be full length and speed, which for my S/G license meant at least 10.05 seconds elapsed time. On my last attempt at the quarter mile, one that would count toward my license, I didn’t do a solid burnout. This means I didn’t get my tires hot and sticky enough, which in turn caused my wheels to spin a bit on the line. My launch was not wheels up and gone but more like a Wile E. Coyote launch. Ya know… when your wheels spin and the car goes nowhere, then finally gets grip, hooks up and pins you in the seat. Still thrilling but this method of launch gets you nothing but a good look at the back of the car that’s beating you.


As we gathered in the classroom for the final session, Mr. Hawley read out the names of the students that earned their license. He read the gentleman’s name before me and the one after mine…my heart sank.


I had just learned the importance of having a good burnout. Really, I learned the importance of all the lead up procedures before heading down the track. You can’t do your best if you don’t set yourself up to do your best.


Luckily, I was afforded the opportunity to make a few more passes. I needed one more time slip under 10.05 to send to the NHRA to earn my license and I was determined and quite positive I would not make the same mistake twice. With the help of Richard lining me up through the water box (another good lesson learned), I got great burnouts, great times and earned my NHRA Super Gas license.


It’s been months since I’ve been at the school and I can still hear Mr. Hawley’s voice ringing in my ears; so many great lessons for both drag racing and life. I’m hoping to attend his school at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and also the Frank Hawley School of Drag Racing in Gainesville, FL. I grew up in Florida. My sister Gina and her husband Dean are Florida Gators so Gainesville has always held a special place in my heart. I plan to continue my quest for knowledge about drag racing and become the best racer possible. Certainly, it’s not what you do in life but how you do it. I definitely plan to educate myself, practice as much as possible and be the best drag racer I can be.


If you couldn’t tell already that I’m a big fan of the Frank Hawley Drag Race school, a big fan of Mr. Hawley and Mrs. Lana Hawley as well as the staff of both the Frank Hawley Drag Race School and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


I truly believe if you want to learn the proper way to drag race, get a bit of life counseling and have a bunch of fun, then go to one or all of the Frank Hawley Drag Race Schools. You’ll not only become a better drag racer but a better, more conscientious member of society.


Just remember to listen. 


Contact Information:

Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School

Website: https://frankhawley.com/

Phone: 866-480-7223



Frank Hawley (foreground with starting light trigger in hand) teaching the students about the starting line and lights.

Frank, left, teaching lessons on driving, drag racing, and life as only he can. Jen is at right with sunglasses on her head.

Class photo at the end of the two-day licensing school. One school Super Comp dragster and two Super Gas door cars are pictured. Also pictured are the two cars and drivers who brought their own cars in which to license, Maggi the Magnum and a 427 COPO Camaro.



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