Three-time world champion addicted to drag rush

Drag racer Rob AtchisonMOPAR Canadian Nationals
Grand Bend Motorplex
July 20 to 22
Tickets: 519-238-7223 or

As told to Casey Lessard

Rob Atchison is a three-time (2003-2005) IHRA world champion alcohol funny-car drag racer. The Londoner placed second last year and is currently ranked third in IHRA standings after four of 12 races. Atchison is one of a handful of Canadians on the North American circuit.

It’s hard to describe how it feels to do the quarter-mile. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. The car is so fast and unpredictable that it’s all business all the time. I’m always able to play it back in my head. Time stands still because you’re so focused. You can’t enjoy it like a roller coaster or a Sunday drive because it’s so dangerous.
The acceleration is so huge that you get blurred vision for the first 150 feet. The human body adapts so well to the G-force that you don’t realize how fast you’re traveling. Sometimes you get out and the crew says you were close to the wall or all over the place. The car beside you is going the same speed so you don’t get a feeling for it until you have to do evasive action or if your chute doesn’t go off.
I was 19 when I made my first pass in a drag car. It’s a great rush. You get addicted to it.
The first time I did IHRA, I never thought I’d be doing alcohol funny-car full time. We never dreamed I’d win a world championship. You don’t go in thinking that, but it changed our world.
I’ve been in accidents and caught on fire. Those things happen. In this sport, there are the guys who have and the guys who will.
I’ve always been into cars. We have a machine shop and my dad drag raced in the 50s and 60s. I just tried it out. It wasn’t my goal when I was growing up. I didn’t live at the racetrack. But it was something I was fortunate to fall in love with and have that enjoyment fulfilled.
Grand Bend Motorplex is where I got my first win and where everything started for me. It was the first track I raced on at 19. It’s home.
Actually, I met my wife Julie at the Motorplex, actually. She was doing a summer cruiser hit for the TV station (Julie’s now a weather announcer for London’s A-Channel) at the track. I tried to get her number, but she shot me down. We met later on and it was off and on for a few years. We were both career-focused. Then we came back together. Sometimes you have to sort those things out before you come together. But Julie’s been with me for all the successes I’ve had.
There have been failures and trials, too. I’ve always tried to push the envelope. We set the world record in elapsed time (5.685 seconds in Toronto) and miles per hour (249.09 in Epping). I’m really struggling after last year. I’ve torn the envelope. I’m trying to get back into it – we consistently qualify first. I’m very close to solving the puzzle of why I’m not winning.
It’s a great privilege for me to be a drag racer, which I am 50 per cent of the time. There’s nothing better than being able to compete and to do it with my family. My parents, cousins, uncles and friends are part of the team. I work at the Atchison machine shop as well, and I’m here (in the race shop) most of the time in the summer.
A successful team does everything to perfection. You can’t predict what the machine will do, but you if you prepare it, you’ll be successful. Eighty per cent of the car is safety before speed. Everything’s designed for that sort of speed. It’s the same at the track. It’s more dangerous to be on the 401, to be honest. I’m always driving toward help if I need it.
It’s tough to get rid of the bad rap our sport gets. If kids are racing on the streets, they refer to it as drag racing. They never call it NASCAR racing. NASCAR has done a good job of making their drivers look like heroes. But tracks have opportunities to try it out, even in a streetcar. Just the simplest form of drag racing gets your heart pumping. We put a lot on the table each time we do a pass. You can win or lose in the blink of an eye.