Take a supercharged V8, some radical weight distribution, remove the floor and put together a lever based steering system and you have one of drag racing’s most bizarre exhibition offshoots – the wheelstander. Drag News caught up with new ‘Nitro Sheriff’ driver Josh Leahy to get a newbie’s view on what driving one of these insane cars is like.
“The first piece of advice I was given was that I had to be ready to learn the hardest part of driving the Nitro Sheriff first – landing the car,” he said. “To be able to land the Nitro Sheriff I have to get back on the throttle just before it lands to be able to let the front wheels down softly without damaging the body.
“The golden rule I was taught was to never let go of the steering wheel – even though I might not use it throughout the run I need those front wheels straight when I come down to land otherwise I’m in trouble!”
Josh’s dad Greg (it’s actually him driving in our file photos of the car at the top and bottom of this story) was the former driver of the car, which is owned by Graeme Cowin, and wanted to get ready to pass on the driver’s seat to some younger blood, with Josh and Dan Donnelly selected to pilot the fire-breathing, siren-sounding Funny Car.
“The last 10 years of drag racing experience under my belt almost became obsolete while trying to learn how to drive this beast,” he said. “I really had to think hard about throttle control while getting the front wheels up in the air, trying not to bring the car up too fast or under-accelerating, then steering on the back wheels using a hand operated lever.
“What really got my attention was shifting into top gear during a run, which meant I had to let go of the steering lever while up in the air, trying my best to keep the car straight. That required a lot of concentration!”
Josh said he didn’t expect how much the Sheriff needed to be manhandled, like an angry criminal in handcuffs.
“What surprised me was steering the car and how hard I needed to lean on the steering lever to bias the back wheels, really man-handling it to go left or right,” he said. “I think I got into a few tricky situations that really required me to steer the car around and steer hard.
“On the last pass of learning how to drive the car, I felt it go over a bump, which brought all wheels up off the ground for a split second. That was something I really didn’t expect!
“Both Dan and I loved the experience to drive the Nitro Sheriff and can’t wait to get back out in it again. We owe a big thank you to Graeme Cowin for giving us the opportunity to drive the Nitro Sheriff and to my father Greg for being a fantastic tutor.
“It’s a real honour to be a new part of the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Car spectacle and to be mixing in with the Rocket Industries crew.”
Image of Josh next to car by Kelsey Walford.