It’s 9 a.m. on a Tuesday in the middle of February. Glinting in Florida’s low sun, a metallic orange Firebird sits motionless in the middle of a hotel parking lot just outside of Tampa. A set of wriggling pant legs twist and turn under the Pontiac followed by a series of muffled shouts.
Less than one full day into Sick Week 2023, Stay Tuned host Tony Angelo, along with teammate Zach Zimmerman, are already thrashing to prep the car for its next drag strip date. Zimmerman slides out from under the car and resumes work under the hood, where he drains the fuel from the carbs into an empty water bottle. Fuel pressure problems have ailed the Bird since the team left Orlando last night.
This type of roadside remedy is commonplace at any drag-and-drive event. In fact, it’s part of the process. And why wouldn’t it be? In a five-day stretch, competitors traverse over 1000 miles of public roads, visiting four different drag strips along the way, where they make multiple runs to set a quick time. Imagine throwing the Baja 1000 and a quarter of the NHRA schedule in a blender—something is bound to break.
Teams are capped at two people and the use of a support vehicle is strictly prohibited. Rather, racers tow spare parts, drag slicks, and other road trip necessities in a single-axle trailer behind their ride. No trailer queens, here.
Each morning, the group departs from a hotel for a nearby strip. At the race track, they might swap tires, tune on the top end, or even change blower pulleys to prep their street-legal racer for the strip. Once their driver makes a pass (or passes if they want to improve upon their time), they pack up, convert the car back to street mode, and point their hood scoops toward the next town. It’s quite a sight watching a procession of serious drag cars with trailers in tow, ambling off into the setting sun.
Sick Week is a relative newcomer to the drag-and-drive roster. This may come as a surprise considering the 350 entry spots sold out in two minutes—in only its second year.
It helps that Sick Week’s founder is a veteran of the space and a full-blown celebrity amongst drag racers. Tom Bailey is a perennial contender in Hot Rod’s Drag Week, the biggest and most illustrious drag-and-drive of them all. He’s a four-time champion of the event, and his street-legal 4000-horsepower 1969 Camaro, which is capable of five-second passes, unofficially holds the drag title as “the fastest street car in America.”
It was at Drag Week, in 2021, that Bailey and a group of friends began discussing what they would do different if they had their own event.
“At the top of our hit list was good track prep,” says Bailey. “Put us on great tracks where people can run their best times.” Bailey, a Michigan-native, would spend his summers testing in Florida and discovered several quality strips within a day’s drive of one another. “I thought ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this?’”
Bailey and his group rushed to assemble the first Sick Week in 2022. It was an instant hit. “I remember arriving late to a track one day, and seeing the cars lined up for miles,” says Bailey. “It was packed on a Thursday morning in February.”
The event draws the eyeballs among drag racing enthusiasts. So much so that Bailey created the Sick Ward for people who just wanted to cruise with the group and enjoy the camaraderie rather than race. The Ward, as well as local drag nuts, pack the stands at every Florida strip—an uncommon sight for any weekday drag event.
Angelo and Zimmerman are buttoning up the Bird at the hotel. “It’s hard to go fast. It’s even harder to make every stop,” says Angelo. This is a sentiment shared by all, as the true battle is getting the drag car to the track—Florida traffic alone is enough to constrict the coolant out of any radiator—and that you can only truly relax once you’re in the staging lanes. Some even take the opportunity to sleep in the seat, on the ground, or on a hood while they wait.
Across town from Angelo, hundreds of fellow drag racers are already filling the burn out box with smoke at Bradenton Motorsports Park. The quarter-mile track just south of Tampa has a reputation for being the smoothest strip in America. The sun is still rising and Round two of Sick Week is at full tilt. YouTube celeb Cleetus McFarland—who also owns the Freedom Factory which shares a driveway with Bradenton—is racing in his 3000-horsepower twin-turbo El Camino nicknamed “Mullet.”
Cleet’s Chevy is a six-second hopeful. Angelo, on the other hand is gunning for the 10-second bracket in the Firebird. His stick-shift class (Group F) is a rich mixture of rides from traditional muscle cars to late model trucks.
Eventually, the tandem of Angelo and Zimmerman arrive at the track around to noon lay down a couple runs. (Below: Watch the latest episode of Hagerty’s Stay Tuned to see if their team cracks the 10-second mark.)
“It’s super grueling, there’s limited sleep, and tons of parts breaking,” says Angelo. “But when you finish, it’s the greatest feeling of accomplishment, ever.”