Updated 12:52 a.m. 9/14/2013
It takes Keith Harrison and his 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air a little less than 12 seconds to drive a quarter mile drag strip. Harrison, a partner at Crowell & Moring in Washington, tops out his machine at close to 120 miles per hour.
"I've loved cars since I was a little kid," Harrison said in an interview with Legal Times. "Racing them was a childhood dream of mine."
For one week every year, Harrison gets to live his childhood dream when he participates in Hot Rod Magazine's Drag Week. Every year, hundred of gearheads from across the globe converge at some of America's most storied racetracks in the pursuit of speed and endurance.
Drivers scream down a quarter mile track in as few seconds as possible before packing up and driving to another racetrack. The five-day, 1,200-mile journey takes drivers to four different speedways. Between tracks, drivers follow a pre-determined route that takes them to landmarks where they pose for photos with their hot rods. The photos are submitted to race officials at the next track. Landmarks on this year's race included the world's largest rocking chair in Franklin, Ind., and Patriot Park in Covington, Tenn.
"Hot Rod Drag Week is a test of man and machinery," Harrison said.
Joining him on the trip is New York-based Crowell labor and employment partner Jeffrey Pagano. Harrison is the leader of Crowell's trial practice team.
Harrison and Pagano started the week on Monday at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Ky. Since then, the duo have traveled to Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Ind.; Gateway Motorsport Park in Collinsville, Ill.; and Memphis International Raceway in Millington, Tenn. Competition ends today back in Bowling Green.
Drivers and their vehicles are sorted into 15 categories based on modifications or the lack thereof to the hot rods. Harrison's ride is that souped-up Bel Air. He replaced the stock small-block 327-cubic inch engine with a 454 engine modified to give 500 cubic inches. His car falls into the "gasser" category—which, among other requirements, must have period-appropriate wheels and outlandish modifications.
Last year, Harrison took third in the gasser group—his best showing in the four years he's participated. This year, however, isn't looking as good.
"We broke our rear suspension somewhere between Bowling Green and Indianapolis," Harrison said. "I had to make one trip down the track, but I had to go really slowly. I limped it down the track to stay in the event. It took the rest of the day to rebuild the suspension in the parking lot."
But despite the troubles, the car ran its fastest quarter mile the next day at Gateway – 11.455 seconds with a max speed of 118.02 miles per hour.
Throughout the years, his avocation has helped Harrison make friends from across the globe.
"I really enjoy getting to see them every year," Harrison said. "It is my annual pilgrimage of speed."
Photos courtesy of Keith Harrison. The photo caption was updated to clarify the ownership of the hot rod.