Drag racing is exciting because it distills auto racing into a very short, very intense event that emphasizes the core strengths of American-made cars--they go really fast, really quickly, and in a really straight line. Even just watching these land-bound rockets is a viscerally thrilling blend of noise, speed, and fumes. IHRA Drag Racing: Sportsman Edition, on the other hand, captures none of the excitement of drag racing, instead presenting the sport as simplistic, ugly, and tedious.
Every race in IHRA Drag Racing: Sportsman Edition goes something like this. First you enter your dial-in time, which is your own rough projection of how long it's going to take your car to run the quarter mile. It's extremely important that your dial-in time be as accurate as possible without being over your actual race time, as it's used to handicap the delay between the two lanes on the light tree. Set it too low and your opponent gets a head start on the light tree; set it too high and you'll basically be disqualified from the race. If your car is equipped with a delay box, you then set the delay time, which can be useful for getting off the starting line quicker but is difficult to fine-tune. You go through the burnout phase in order to heat up your tires for optimal grip, which simply requires you to lean on the accelerator button until the onscreen meter tells you that your tires are suitably hot.
Then comes the staging mode, where you roll as far up on the starting line as you can without going over; once you're staged, you're ready to race. If there's any challenge, it's in timing your acceleration so that you're off the starting line within thousandths of a second of the light turning green. There's rarely much challenge in keeping your car in its lane, and by default, the game handles shifting gears automatically, though for a more realistic experience you can choose to shift manually. From a strictly nuts-and-bolts perspective, it's technically fairly accurate, and gearheads will probably appreciate realistic touches like the dial-in time; but in practice, the whole experience is just mind-numbing. All the prerace preparations are basically mechanical, but the game still requires you to go through them yourself every single time, and once you're actually off the starting line you get no sense of power, speed, or danger, all of which are key to the experience of real drag racing.
IHRA Drag Racing: Sportsman Edition packages its dull racing experience in two different ways, neither of which is compelling enough to excuse how lackluster the core of the game is. An arcade mode lets you jump right into a race against an artificial intelligence opponent or a friend using prebuilt, tricked-out dragsters, while the season mode offers something a little more in-depth. You start off with a beater, though by winning races you'll earn cash that you can spend on part upgrades like new front and rear tires, engine blocks, cylinder heads, carburetors, blowers, nitrous kits, camshafts, valves, transmissions, and delay boxes, as well as new cars.