If you've been to a live drag racing event, you know how the smell of tire rubber, the roar of engines, and the excitement of the crowd simply don't translate well to TV broadcasts. The small screen just can't do the spectacle justice. Likewise, the IHRA Drag Racing videogame series can't seem to capture anything but the most basic flavor of the spectacle.
Drag racing, for the uninitiated, is about more than strapping yourself to a zillion-horsepower rocket engine and crossing the finish line first - a little more, at least. Racers enter a dial-in time, and then compete to get as close as possible to that time in a quarter-mile race without beating that time.
It’s a deceptively simple task, and in this sense drag racing is as much a battle between the driver and himself as anything else. Single events, tournaments, and entire seasons spew cash and "pro points," decorating your trophy room, but upgrading and tuning your vehicle's parts is as much about flexibility as it is about sheer performance enhancement.
The experience of racing these monsters is surprisingly ho-hum, and you'll need to switch to manual shifting and higher difficulties to feel like more than a chimp with an accelerator pedal. The sheer noise level of these beasts should be overpowering, and yet you'll never hear more than a hopelessly generic, muffled, and underwhelming grumble emit from your whip.
The essence of drag racing is speed and danger, riding on the edge of being out of control; the vehicles of IHRA Drag Racing: Sportsman Edition, by contrast, feel pokey and predictable, hiding in their lanes without more than an occasional nudge.
Playing the full lead-in of each race is interesting at first, including as it does the staging and the preparatory burnout that pre-heats tires. But the latter is reduced to a simple meter, with no consideration of the "tire bunching" issues and such that real drivers face, and you wind up spending more time getting in position than you do actually racing.
Like its predecessors, the Sportsman Edition is a budget-priced title, so you can guess that the graphics won't be anything special, and the soundtrack won't consist of more than a few generic rock tracks. Amid such poor production values, a general lack of excitement, and an apparent general lack of effort, the saving grace of IHRA Drag Racing is that it's pretty much the only dragster in town. If you're a fan with your heart set on a dragging video game (in whatever sense of the word), you'll probably find enough to keep yourself amused for a short time, even as you hope for something a whole of lot better in the future.