Volume X, Issue 7, Page 77

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Winning and losing and the cost of doing either

We all seem to have agreed that 2500-2600 pound race cars going anywhere near 335 mph with (an averaged) less than 2500 feet to get it to a full stop is insanity -- or to paraphrase the great English blues musician John Mayall, just inviting “a case of accidental suicide.” Everyone seems to have a solution for the problem -- some really good, some not so good, and all with the best of intentions.

I want to review some of the proposed solutions but first I want to address the issue of returning to quarter-mile racing. My long-time friend and DRO Editor at Large, Bret Kepner, and I were discussing this matter and came to the same conclusion: Barring drastic changes, the chances are very, very slim that professional nitro classes will ever return to quarter-mile racing. We believe the liability to the sport should it return to quarter-mile racing is huge, especially if someone else were to be injured in a Top Fuel or Funny Car.

Imagine the lawyer addressing NHRA president Tom Compton. “You knew that racing these cars a quarter mile was unsafe and you reduced the length to 1,000 feet for safety and then you went back to quarter mile. Is that right, Mr. Compton?”

Understand that Eric Medlen and Scott Kalitta came from families deeply devoted to the sport of drag racing, families who wouldn’t think of suing anyone over those drivers’ accidents for any reason or amount of money. If, on the other hand, the drivers had been first timers or drivers who raced as a hobby, you can bet your last dollar that right now, today, the NHRA, the Napps and every sponsor associated with those cars would be in the middle of lawsuits that would make Mrs. Darrell Russell’s look like a walk in park.

Barriers and camera towers in the shut off. Yikes! It gives me cold sweats just thinking about it. While you’re at it, consider the fact that at almost every NHRA track there are people with homes nearby who are looking for any reason they can seize on to shut down the tracks.

Someone has to come up with a reason they can back up with facts and not just because “that’s the way it has always been” to persuade me that going back to a quarter mile isn’t a losing proposition. And I don’t want to hear from one more person about how going 335-mph in the quarter mile is no big deal…until they have done that themselves.

We’ve had a ton of letters here at DRO with the readers weighing in on the subject of slowing cars down, making the tracks safer and the quarter-mile length. Many of our readers have advocated smaller superchargers, less overdrive, a single mag, single fuel pump, or smaller engines. None other than hall of famer Dale Armstrong has advocated a mandatory maximum compression ratio.

All of these ideas have merit, but in my opinion there are two basic problems with all those suggestions. First, they would all require a lot of inspection by the NHRA tech officials. Can you imagine that after every round, when winning or losing a round could make the difference between making the Countdown to the elite ten, that the losers would demand that every winner have their compression checked, fuel pumps flowed, blower inspected, blower pulleys measured for circumference and not just counting the teeth or every cylinder  “pumped” to verify engine cubic inch displacement. You can bet that as racer with a sponsor losing any critical round would demand that.

Second  could have provisional winners like NASCAR instead of the instant winners we have now. The winners and runners-up would be in the “barn” after every event for teardown and verification of their cars’ being legal. What happens if both the winner and runner up fail post-race tech? Call out the riot police!

So, here is the deal. Whatever steps are taken will have to be both easily verifiable visually and very easily done.

With that in mind we have had some suggestions from some very smart people that seem to make sense to me. They include such obvious solutions as reducing the amount of downforce created by the aero-package from Paul Romine, three-time IHRA Top Fuel World Champ. Reduce the width of the tires by an inch or two from tuner and former NHRA World Champion driver Dave Settles. One well-known car builder suggested just restricting the size of the fuel tank. I vote for reduced track prep after 60 feet. These solutions all seem reasonable, easily done and easily verifiable.

But there is one course of action our readers have suggested that I have decided is the best solution for the problem even if the powers that be insist on returning to quarter mile. And that is (drum roll please) BAN THE BLOWER IN NITRO CLASSES.

If you think about it, the idea makes sense on a lot of levels. The ET/Speed record for A/FD is currently 5.10/284. So four-second, 300-mph runs are a given. But 4.40’s and 337+ speeds? Naw, I don’t think so. Top Fuel  engines already have dual mags, big fuel pumps, etc., so the changeover expense isn’t going to be crippling.

If you banned the blowers, kept the 500-inch engine limit, kept the 3:20 gear but let tuners go back to 100 percent in the tank and give them clutch management, I think four-second, 300-mph runs would come, and soon.

As for engine explosions, consider this, most A/FD engines rarely turn more than 6300 rpm on a pass.  Think of the money the teams would save on engine parts and how many fewer explosions we might have if the engines are turning about 2000 rpm less.

What about the instant influx of new Top Fuel teams it would provide. No more short fields in Top Fuel and maybe even some new class sponsors!

As for the Funny Cars, what could it hurt? They’ll look the same and here’s one more benefit. Injected nitro cars on 98 percent sound a lot better than a blown car on 90 percent. There are only about 100 supercharged NHRA nitro cars, so the blower guys won’t be put of business and the nostalgia guys are still going to have blown motors.

So, want to go back to racing for a quarter mile, cut costs and bring more teams back to the professional ranks? As a dyed-in-the-wool supercharger fanatic I can’t believe I’m writing this, but here goes: ban blowers and save the NHRA nitro classes. And that is a winner!