By Anthony Rhoads
Imagine sitting at a red light and a dump truck slams into the back of your car at full force and then traveling at speeds of more than 200 mph for the next several seconds.
That's what a typical day at work feels like for National Hod Rod Association Pro Stock Division drag racer and Stockbridge resident Mark Whisnant.
"There's really no way to describe it but it's like getting rear-ended by a dump truck at a red light," he said. "The first initial leap hits you really, really hard."
Whisnant is in his third season of competing in drag racing's top organization.
After competing in the now-defunct Pro Stock Truck class, Whisnant made his NHRA Pro Stock debut in 2002. It was a tremendous rookie season for Whisnant.
He recorded one runner-up finish (at Seattle) and finished in the top-10 in the final points standings.
"2002 was a great season but we had a sophomore slump in 2003; we want to get back," Whisnant said. "So far, (the 2004 season) is not going exactly how we want; we've qualified two out of five events but we're on the upswing. Right now, I would give us a ?C.' We're not the worst we could be but we have a chance to do well and get back into the top-10 where we belong."
In last weekend's O'Reilly Spring Nationals in Houston, Whisnant made it to the first elimination round.
"We run in a very competitive class," Whisnant said. "It's the most competitive class in motorsports with the drivers separated by a fraction of a second. It's really tough and just to qualify is an accomplishment in our sport."
In his last race at Houston, Whisnant lost in the first elimination round by 0.058 seconds. Whisnant posted a speed of 203.71 mph (6.789 seconds) but Greg Anderson raced at 204.54 mph (6.731 seconds). Anderson is the current NHRA Pro Stock national points leader.
Going into the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals coming up April 30-May 2 in Bristol, Tenn., Whisnant is currently 18th in the season points standings.
"Just being a part of an exciting sports that has grown in the last few years is really exciting," Whisnant said. "With our t.v. package on ESPN2 and with Powerade as the main sponsor, we're attracting a lot more fans to the sports."
Whisnant has been around the sport for just about all his life. His father, Reid was an accomplished drag racer for 20 years and Mark spent many days at the track with his dad.
"I wouldn't be racing if he wasn't involved; I wouldn't be racing at this point," he said. "He raced for 20 years and I grew up around drag racing."
Even though he grew up around racing and his first job was as a crew member on his father's team, he didn't get into racing until his dad retired.
"I didn't think about it until he retired," he said. "It's the biggest influence on my life the help and support and money to do comes from him."
Whisnant is passing on the family tradition to his sons Tyler, 11, and Dylan, 7.
He takes them to events when he can and in the summer, his family spends several weeks on the road with him.
"That's the way I grew up," he said. "They have fun. They enjoy it; they always look forward to it. I spend so much time gone with 23 events a year, I love bringing them to the track. It's great; it's fun and it gives me inspiration to do good."
Whisnant will have some added inspiration May 13-16 when the NHRA returns to the Atlanta Dragway in Commerce.
"It's great," he said. "It's our home track and we do well there. It's fun just to get all our friends and family out. It's a lot of added pressure but it's exciting for everyone there."