Volume X, Issue 5, Page 94

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The Burkster Gets Blasted, Courtesy of Austin Coil

I was on the receiving end of a world-class ass chewing from JFR’s Austin Coil on the starting line at last weekend’s NHRA race at St. Louis. He made it extremely clear to me that he and everyone on his team completely disagreed with my views that there is perhaps too much track prep and that perhaps less track prep might result in more even surfaces. When a man has won 16 NHRA World Championships and he talks, you are obligated to listen and listen hard. Besides we have had a cordial relationship for some 30 years and I respect his knowledge and opinions a great deal.

The gist of his words were that since I wasn’t a tuner of a fuel car and therefore had no experience in his shoes, I wasn’t qualified to express an educated opinion about track prep. Maybe he’s right, but I never let that kind of lack of experience stop me before. Frankly, I was somewhat flattered that Austin Coil thought my words carry any weight with the High Sheriffs or that they might change what they do based upon what I write.

But after he was through dressing me down I decided that I owed it to him and myself to do some homework, educate myself and see if I could offer a more informed opinion about track prep.

Here’s what I found out. How each track is prepared depends on a lot of variables and is an inexact science. After Las Vegas I was told that track prep meant spraying the tracks with a higher percentage of traction compound. I also observed that no matter how much traction the track crews make, they can’t do anything about bumps, dips, or other issues on the track surface. That’s the responsibility of the track owner, the NHRA, or perhaps PRO. Track surface issues can have everything to do with race cars getting down a lane without losing traction and blowing up engines, and, in some cases, no amount of track prep will help.

One of the points that Coil made was that because of better track prep the track at Atlanta was the best the pros had all year and the racing was the best we had seen to that point in the season.

He was correct, but I think there was another factor to the great racing surface at Atlanta that was even more of a factor than track prep and that is WEATHER!

Atlanta was, I believe, the first race this year where the track wasn’t subjected to direct sunlight heating up the track to those 120 to 135-degree and higher surface temps. And I think that had a lot to do with the quality of that track, and every track. How I forgot this when I wrote my blast about track prep I will blame on advancing age. Of course traction is better if the track surface remains cool. Every performance record in the sport can be attributed to cool track surfaces and atmospheric conditions.

This was never more evident to me than it was at St. Louis. On Friday and Saturday we experienced unusually cold weather; on Saturday the high was around 50 degrees and it was overcast all day. I saw the quickest Top Fuel lap I’ve ever seen (a 4.46 blast by Dave Grubnic and Jim Oberhofer), and the quickest and fastest Pro Stock qualifying I’ve ever seen.

Sunday, on the same track except with about 20 degrees more air temp and sun shining on the track surface suddenly became fairly hard for the Pros to negotiate. There were no massive oil-downs or such; the weather just changed and there wasn’t a damn thing the track-prep folks could do to compensate. The racing was good, in fact it was stellar as the nitro and gasoline tuners did their jobs.

So I’m going to change my tune. I was wrong. If a nitro tuner is tasked with getting 8,000+ hp of nitro power to the pavement and all he really has to work with is 36 inches of Goodyear tire, a five-disc clutch and his best guess, then I believe, as Austin Coil does, that every effort should be made to make the tracks as sticky as possible from the starting line to finish line.

In the meantime, as fans and racers and, yes, the Burkster himself, all must come to grips with the fact that drag racing long ago left the Sixties and Seventies. We have fuel cars making more power in four cylinders that fuel cars of the Seventies made using eight, and, short of two-cylinder fuel motors or legalized  traction control, tire smoke, blown motors and long clean ups are here to stay.

The next time I’m sitting in the stands or standing on the starting line and some poor guy guts a motor and oils the track I’m just going to order another cocktail, take a nap or whatever while they clean the track. I might bitch, but I ain’t leaving. I say deal with it or find another spectator sport. I’m a long way from being happy with everything about today’s drag racing, but I have to admit I can’t find a replacement for nitro.

So, I’ll continue to watch, bitch, and write about drag racing and when I’m wrong take the occasional ass-chewing that I deserve. After all, as my buddy Larry Dixon says, “We can all bitch about this deal but if it weren’t here we’d all have to have a real job.”

Amen, brother.