News & Analysis


Closing the books on 2011

From all accounts, the NHRA is about to be faced with another high-profile and probably expensive (is there any other kind?) lawsuit from one of their competitors. With all of the financial issues and popularity issues the NHRA is currently facing, a bitter and controversial lawsuit with a popular racer would seem to be the last thing they need.

The whole issue revolves around a decision by the NHRA tech department to inspect the PSI superchargers of a select few of their sportsman alcohol racers at the 2011 World Finals. The result of the inspection led the NHRA and VP Technical Operations to accuse team owner Rick Jackson and his driver, Tony Bartone, of cheating by modifying the case of their PSI “screw” supercharger. The rules as they are today allow no modification of the supercharger case.

The team’s blower case was taken by the NHRA tech committee and after a couple of days or so, the NHRA tech department informed the team that they felt the supercharger case had been illegally modified. They then fined the driver $5,000! (Why do they always fine the driver? Most of them know very little about what is done to the engine. Why not the crew chief or the team owner?) and then stripped him of the points and money he’d won at the race.

The NHRA confiscated the blower case and refused to return the item. So, aside from the $5,000 fine and loss of points and money, the team also lost a $10,000 supercharger.

Now I have no issue with NHRA punishing anyone who knowingly violates their rules with fines or what have you, but I do think they had better damn well be sure that what they are doing is justified. Being branded as a cheater in any sport is extremely serious business and is not to be taken lightly.

I have a couple of questions about the incident. If the NHRA tech department thought there might be an issue with alcohol classes screw-type superchargers, why didn’t they also make the winners and runners-up in both the TAFC and TAD classes surrender their superchargers for inspection after the race was over?  That would only seem fair and certainly is not without precedent.

The NHRA rules require that the PSI supercharger case not be modified in any way. The problem with this rule, according to the racers and manufacturers I’ve talked to, is that some PSI superchargers come to the racers with portions of the exhaust ports polished while other supposedly identical superchargers’ exhaust ports aren’t polished. Racers tell me when they order a supercharger from the only NHRA-approved manufacturer they are asked if they want the case milled four hundred-thousandths or not. Isn’t polishing and milling considered modifying?

According to the racers I have talked to regarding this (who ask to remain un-named, fearing reprisal from the NHRA) neither the NHRA nor the PSI company will furnish them or the companies servicing their superchargers with actual specs or blueprints for the cases. That means that a lot of those racers have no idea if their PSI superchargers are legal. Evidently what is considered illegal modification is in part a subjective decision by the NHRA tech department, not a black and white issue.

One racer reports that he bought a PSI supercharger from a Pro Mod racer that raced with a series that has no restrictions concerning modifying the case. The unit had some machining done to one of the end plates and some additional holes drilled for fuel injector jets. According to the racer, he sent the supercharger to the original manufacturer and had the end plate replaced but the factory only plugged the fuel nozzle holes, and that blower received a certification from the factory. If that supercharger were to show up on an NHRA car with a case modified for additional fuel injectors, would the racer have it confiscated and be fined?

Which brings me to the point of this rant. The last thing that the NHRA and drag racing need is another high-profile court case with a racer. Tony Bartone and Rick Jackson appear to be honorable men, and, from what I’m told by people that know them, they won’t have themselves branded as cheaters without putting up a defense. However the matter is settled, if it goes to court the only real winners will be the lawyers.

This is where NHRA president Tom Compton could step in and take charge. Allow the driver and owner in this situation to retain their reputations and dignity by publicly saying that the NHRA doesn’t think they knowingly ran an illegal part. At the same time he could support the tech department by stating that the fine, loss of points and loss of prize money would stand because whether they knowingly used it or not the team is responsible for any illegal part found by the NHRA tech department. NHRA should require the manufacturer of any NHRA legal part to furnish the blueprints of those parts to the racers so that all parties know what is considered an illegal modification and what isn’t.

Taking this initiative would be a good way for Mr. Compton to demonstrate his leadership and end the 2011 season on a positive note.