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Drag Racing could be going through more ‘drastic’ changes in the near future!
The folks that control the major drag racing series -- and that would be Tom Compton (NHRA), Aaron Polburn (IHRA), Kenny Nowling (ADRL), and Charlie Harmon (NMCA/NMRA) -- are once again facing a safety crisis fueled by a death at a dragstrip.
Certainly Antron Brown’s Top Fueler wasn’t the first to lose a wheel and have it go into the grandstands or pits and injure someone, just as Vinnie Deceglie and Gordie Rivera Jr. weren’t the first drivers of fast doorslammer to crash as a result of track conditions.
But the incidents at NHRA’s national event at Firebird International Raceway have once again thrust the issue of safety and drag racing into the public spotlight.
Despite the fact that drag racing has had quite a few instances in recent history of wheels coming off nitro cars, in the entire 50+-year history of the sport it appears that a tire and wheel going into the grandstands and injuring someone has happened just twice. That is hardly a trend.
Nonetheless, John Medlen and Lee Beard have just announced they will devise a way to tether the wheels to the chassis by Gainesville and we’ll add yet more weight to 2500+ pound cars that are going over 320 mph in a thousand feet. And there is talk about requiring taller and stronger fencing to protect spectators. So, while many National and Divisional track owners are still dealing with spending $50-100,000 to install better sand traps at the end of their tracks in a down economy, they may now face spending more money on new fencing to better protect the spectators.
But developing a tethering system and installing fencing won’t deal with the issue of race cars and components that, despite major re-designs, continue to fail. Cars that accelerate to speeds above 320 mph in less than four seconds create stress on components that defy the laws of physics. A round tire that turns into a solid square is just one example. Safely stopping a 2800-lb door car after a 220-mph pass on ten-wide tires is another.
The real problem that drag racing faces is that is that drag cars at many levels are simply going too fast and too quick to be safe on many existing tracks. Running off the end of a racetrack ought to be a rarity, not a regular occurrence.
After the Pro Stockers crashed at Phoenix I talked to several Pro Stock drivers and car builders. I asked them specifically to explain to me what they thought caused the two cars to crash.
Was lack of downforce or the bumps in the track surface at Phoenix the reason for the crash? The answer they all gave me was a shocker. It wasn't lack of downforce, they said. The reason for the crashes was two-fold; they believed that the bumps in both lanes at Phoenix contributed to the crashes but, amazingly, they felt even stronger that track prep contributed just as much or more as the bumpy track surface to the crashes.