035aAcceleration is a U.S. tradition, harkening back to a time when Main Street on a Friday night was an endless series of drag races a la American Graffiti. Back then, a 1974 GTO ran a quarter mile in 16.4 seconds. But today, the car market is seeing a strong trend toward MPG rather than MPH. Still, there are a few diehards out there who long to be pushed back in their heat when they hit the skinny pedal — and the assumption is they aren’t thrilled about plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

Unless, of course, they belong to the National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA). The group has been growing in popularity lately, helping to change the public image of the electric vehicle (considered by many automotive buffs to be as exciting as an oversized golf cart). Now old drag racers like John Wayland of Portland, Ore. are building electric drag racers in their garages that will blow the doors off all but the most expensive gas-powered cars.

Wayland built a 1972 Datsun electric, nicknamed the “White Zombie” (see left), that travels the quarter-mile from a stand still to a top speed of 109.75 miles per hour in under 12 seconds — without burning gas, and using traditional lead-acid batteries. To put that in context, a twin-supercharged Corvette ZR1 costs $103,000 and covers the same distance in 11.2 seconds, while a Nissan 370Z does it in 13.3. In other words, a guy in his garage with standard car batteries and some ingenuity is watching almost everything on the road in his rear-view mirror.

So what does this mean for traditional automakers and the commercial potential of hybrid and electric models?

It means that even as the Big Three — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — are working on their hot-rod images with the revival of high-horsepower two-door sports cars like the Camaro and the Challenger, there is a growing interest in the driving performance of EVs. Like Tesla Motors’ Roadster, these battery-powered hot rods are going to help alter the public’s opinion of what a more eco-friendly car can do for them. Following suit, Fisker Automotive, Chevy and Nissan are all chasing the same goal.

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