I was having a conversation with an old friend today. We were talking about some of the new polices the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) has put into effect in drag racing in the last few years. NHRA is responsible for setting rules and safety guidelines and regulations for drag racing. Most of which have kept drag racing the safest motor sport going. Most of their safety stuff I don’t have a problem with . I feel they have a good grasp on how to keep people alive while piloting the hardest accelerating cars on the planet.
In the past decade, top fuel and funny car speeds have been pushed over the three hundred mile per hour mark. Most dragstrips can safely shut down a two hundred and ninety mile per hour car ok. Shut down area is probably more on the minds of strip managers these days than ever before and well it should be. Two drivers have lost their lives in top end accidents. Eric Medlin and Scott Kalitta. Both accidents happened on the big end of the track close to the finish line. Both cars were running the full 1320 feet. Scott Kalitta’s car had an engine explosion which caused both parachutes to become detached from the car and was unable to slow down in the remaining shut down area. Medlins accident was similar but I am unfamiliar with the details. So NHRA decided to make the 1000 foot point a mandatory shutdown line. So now all top fuel and funny cars have to shut down at the 1000′ point. This is a band-aid for tracks with shorter shut down areas.
Now I see some of the main people involved in the sport wanting to slow the cars down, to chemically re-engineer the nitromethane these cars use for fuel so it’s not so prone to detonation. I can tell you that exploding top fuel cars has rapidly declined in two decades. I remember watching Billy Meyers sneeze the supercharger off his funny car every run one summer! I think he went thru three or four bodies until someone got the tune up right on the car. It’s in the nature of nitro powered cars to do this sort of thing. I’m not saying that’s cool it’s just in their nature as it is for a mosquito to bite you. So goes it with hanging a valve open longer than what the camshaft says and then lighting off an intake manifold full of nitromethane, it’s gonna go boom!
Here’s what’s bothering me about all of this. First of all drag racing is supposed to be done over a 1/4 of a mile. One quarter of a mile is 1,320 feet, not 1000. So NHRA is saying that if an accident happens at 300+ mph that the extra 320 feet is gonna make the difference between a driver having a fatal accident or not? Top fuel and funny cars are light, but consider the fact that you have 1 ton of steel, carbon fiber and aluminum accelerated to over 300 mph, it’s gonna have a considerable amount of kinetic energy stored up. It’s gonna take more than 320 feet of extra shut down area to slow it down to a non-fatal velocity whatever that is. Why not require the tracks to lengthen the shut down areas? NHRA sanctions a track to run fuel cars then there should be shut down area requirements that go hand in hand with other safety aspects to get an event sanctioned. I would think that some money could be generated somewhere from the sponsors to help offset the expense of lengthening shut down areas for track owners. This would be safer for all the cars not just top fuel vehicles. I don’t like hearing about someone dyeing in a drag race. No one does. But lets fix the problem the right way. If there was a throttle problem such as sticking (not unheard of even today) and the driver couldn’t shut off at the 1000′ area by the time he realized the problem he’d be past that point. Sure you can kill the motor and pop the chutes but your still past the magic 1000′ mark.
As far as “fixing” nitro, well I don’t think you can take the bang out of nitro without taking some of its power producing capabilities along with it. It is what it is. It’s very explosive nature is what helps it make the sort of power it does within a top fuel motor. If we “fix” it then we may have a top fuel motor that is making 5500 horsepower instead of 8000 as we do nowadays. So does that then mean that because the top fuel cars are now making only 5500 horsepower that they will be slowing down so that we don’t have to shut them off at the 1000′ mark anymore, or will that mark stay and top fuel speed will be down 5o miles per hour over what they are today? Shades of NASCAR tampering with restrictor plates here folks.
I don’t know what the answer is but it seems we’ve come to a cross roads with track lengths, and horsepower levels. I keep thinking if we start putting limits on top fuel and funny car power levels and speeds then we should have also been content to send men to the moon and gone no further. But we didn’t. Today’s fuel cars are more controllable, more stable and easier to drive than their predecessors from the past by a factor of ten at least. This has come about from diligence and study. We can do the rest of it too.
I don’t want to see NHRA go the way of NASAR with their Mickey Mouse polices. I remember when there were no such things as restrictor plates. When a factory car won because it was the best mouse trap at the time, period. Then because some of the cry babies that lost to the Chrysler Hemi’s and the GM Z11’s at NASCAR got that organization to disqualify those cars because they had an “unfair advantage”. How so? Run what you brung. That’s what my generation used to say. Restrictor plates be damned. Why penalize a design because it is better than what everyone else is using? Another name for this is called “discovery!” Imagine that? I would hate to see NHRA go the way of NASCAR and start initiating all sorts of bullshit rules like they have. I have watched drag racing over half of a century. I have seen it go thru its golden years. I have seen the extinction of class cars that really were a loss to the sport. One such class was Jr. Fuel. I have always been a proponent of this class. All you had to do was watch a small block Chevrolet with a set of Enderle injectors on top of it and 90% in the tank fire up and go down the track only slow on blown nitro cars by sometimes less than a second.
I’d like to see Jr. Fuel come back, and with some guidelines. One being that you had to use factory blocks. I know I can hear the safety people out there saying “that’ll never happen because we all know how weak factory blocks are.” Well maybe they are compared to a World Products aftermarket aluminum block, but with a decent bottom end set up and a little less nitro in the tank we can safely race Jr. Fuel again and do it on budget that blue-collar guys like me can afford. We used to do it folks, before the days of World Products blocks, there were none then.
I’d love to see fuel altereds back too. Spectacular cars, and how about A/GS coupes, Stone, Woods and Cook come to mind.
Fuel roadsters, Pure Hell and Nanook were exciting to say the least.
I don’t want to see a sport I love become watered down to the point of boring because a governing body got too many “good ideas.” I have to admit that I don’t really enjoy watching ESPN drag racing because I have to listen to some ding-dong recite stats on the drivers to me over the sound of a nitro motor. To hell with the stats I want to hear the engine not some bone head running his mouth. Drag race cars are unique in the sound department. Nothing else in the motor sport worlds sound anything like them. The noise is every bit a part of the drag racing experience as is the sight. Put them both together, and is it any wonder I’m hopelessly hooked on drag racing quite probably until the day I die. I’m not the only one!