Where Have All The Racers Gone?

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It troubles me to think that one of my favorite types of motorsports will have to end because there is no way for a top fuel dragster to travel 1000 feet in zero seconds. Yes I said zero seconds. Today a top fuel dragster runs in the 3.7 second range and over 300 miles per hour and while only back in the 1960’s they where running in the high sevens and around 200 miles per hour.

June 21, 2008 trying to qualify for an NHRA race at the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in New Jersey, Scott Kalitta died from injuries when his funny car crashed at the end of the shut down area. His nitro fueled, supercharged, 10,000 horsepower funny car had an engine explosion near the end of the quarter mile. The explosion and ensuing fire damaged the two parachutes, clutch linkage and brakes, thus preventing him from slowing the car before running out of room and crashing. He used up over 2200 feet of shut down area and was doing 125 mph through the sand trap. He tumbled over a concrete wall and into a camera boom lift, destroying the funny car with over 100G’s of force.

NHRA realized that they needed a longer shut down area, so they shortened the race track to 1000 feet adding 320 feet to the braking zone. They developed a sensor that, in the event of an engine backfire, will automatically shut down the fuel pump and deploy the parachutes. This made it safer, but did not slow them down.

funny car flames

It takes a crew of about ten, a well paid crew chief, two cars, spare 10,000 horse power engines and lots of parts, a NASCAR type hauler and truck tractor and of course a driver. The cost to run down the drag strip is $10,000 a lap and to run a full season you better be ready to shell out three to four million dollars.

We all have to agree that an overhaul in the pro ranks is needed at this time. We need to rid ourselves of speed records and the timed qualifying to determine the winner. The by product is going quicker and quicker and still not slowing the cars down. We need two drivers and their cars, side by side racing down the quarter mile strip to declare a winner. Create qualifying races to determine who makes it to the show. Maybe one motor a day with a few spare parts. How about more emphasis on the driver and not a crew chief that depends more on computer read outs and clutch setups. I think this would make it a better sport.

It’s now time for NHRA to take a positive stand. In past seasons there are times they have had less than full fields. With the majority of cars being owned by a few large teams, the small single car teams can’t afford to compete, so cost cutting must be number one on their list. More cars competing will begin to make the shows more exciting. Slowing the cars down will make the sport last longer and help in cutting costs. Add some clever marketing that will involve the automotive industry, the love that we all have for our favorite make of car, and maybe we would have a new and better Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions.

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