Once again the racer’s safety comes second!

Over my 40-plus years as a drag racer, racing journalist and columnist I have found that often it is the words or ideas that you don’t write or share that are the ones that come back to haunt you the most.

That is the case in regards to the bitter war of words and lawyers that is currently going on between Kenny Nowling, president of the ADRL, and David Hagan, who owns the Radford, Virginia, track that hosted an ADRL’s national event the last two years.

I’m not going to write or speculate about who is the injured party or what is legally right or wrong other than to say that David Hagan does have a contract to have an ADRL race at his dragstrip in 2009 and that the ADRL management has decided not to honor that contract and instead to stage an event at Radford, Va., this year. Those are unarguable facts.  Both David Hagan and ADRL President Kenny Nowling have made their decision based on their own beliefs and I will leave the resolution of that situation to the lawyers and the court of public opinion.

What I would rather talk about is why my opinion  (backed up with personal knowledge) is that Motor Mile Dragway is simply not a safe place to race heavy doorslammer racecars that regularly exceed 200 mph in an eighth mile in under 3.80 seconds.

Last year I attended the ADRL event at Radford. It was my first visit to the track and I found it to be a very nice track. Clean and well maintained but certainly smaller in pit area and seating than most of the current ADRL national event stops. Still, no worse than many of the other tracks that ADRL has raced on in the past four years such as Houston Motorsports Park and Texas Raceway just outside of Ft. Worth, TX. Both tracks that  in the past two years have also lost their ADRL events.

It was when the Motor Mile track opened for practice last year for the ADRL’s Pro Extreme and Pro Nitrous cars that I first realized there was a serious problem. As I usually do, I went up the track to take a look at the shutoff and the area at the end of the track. The first thing I noticed was that the shutoff seemed awfully short to me. To make matters worse, at the end of the track there was a serious drop-off of maybe a hundred feet down a hill, and there were metal poles awfully close to the edge of the track. That first day of practice Greg Goodwin couldn’t stop his car and barrel-rolled it at the end of the track.

When I went to the top end of the track after the crash what I saw made me uncomfortable both as a racer and a reporter who has seen too many accidents in his career. I saw a short shutoff, packed sand, and light poles right next to the track.

My worst fears were realized when, as I watched both qualifying on Friday and racing on Saturday, I saw some of the best drivers in our sport forced to deliberately spin their cars out or run off the track at the top end because they simply couldn’t stop their cars. Joshua Hernandez and Harold Martin were just two drivers who couldn’t get stopped in time and there were others. I have photographic proof of what I’m writing about.

I saw some of the drivers getting out of their cars with grim looks on their faces. In some cases I saw fear, and with good reason. If a car would have a throttle stuck wide open or ‘chute failure like what happened to Von Smith’s Pro Extreme car recently, the results could easily have been too horrible to contemplate.

Think about it for a second: the track was short enough that Pro Extreme and Pro Nitrous drivers were spinning their cars out after a pass on purpose and repeatedly. If that isn’t a formula for a disaster I don’t know what would be.

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