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It’s not the speed that kills, it’s the sudden stop
I knew Neal Parker. He was a bear of a man who loved life, drag racing, going fast and his family – the one at home and the one at the track. He was a fearless driver who got every ounce of performance out of the supercharged altered he had when I first met him. I go to know him at the time he bought engines from Jim Oddy, for whom I used to do PR. He had Oddy engines is his alky-burning supercharged altered in IHRA Top Sportsman and Quick Eight competition.
It is my opinion that Neal Parker would be saddened if he thought his death while racing might have an adverse effect on the sport he loved. I don’t think, however, that he would be upset if his death forced those in charge of the sport to make it safer for the competitors.
The problem that the NHRA and other sanctioning bodies face is that some of the national event tracks simply aren’t long enough for the speeds many of the sportsman and all of the professional classes are now running. The issue really is just that simple.
Here is the problem the sport faces as I see it. There is simply no doubt that no one who designed and built some of the NHRA’s current national-event tracks anticipated the speeds we are seeing now.
When tracks like Englishtown, Columbus, and Pomona were built no one could have envisioned that sportsman cars would be recording speeds well over 250 mph and Top Fuel and Funny Cars would be turning speeds well over 335 mph. Now racers are regularly turning those numbers and trying to stop on tracks that were built when 200 mph was science fiction. Part of the problem the tracks face is that many of them are land-locked and cannot buy more land to expand the shut-down area.
Over the years the NHRA has steadily increased the minimum weight of its professional cars, mostly in the name of improved safety. You cannot fault the NHRA for this; they are just trying to make the cars as safe as humanly possible.
But in trying to increase the inherent safety of the cars they may have done just the opposite. Cars competing in the premier sportsman classes and all of their professional classes are not only quicker and faster than they have ever been, but they are heavier than ever before. The drivers are now trying to stop their heavier and faster cars in the same distance that they had to stop the cars with when the 200-mph barrier wasn’t broken in any division.