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Finish at All Costs?

It’s a damn shame that what was shaping up to be a great NHRA race at Atlanta Dragway -- the closest track that the Coca-Cola executives can attend -- went terribly wrong at the race.

For two days the fans on hand and those watching at home on ESPN2 saw great qualifying with racers setting new track and national records. They also saw too many nitro engine explosions, crashes and oil-downs. But, despite all of that, a great track and atmospheric conditions gave hope that race day was going to be an outstanding event.

Then the whole deal literally blew up in NHRA and ESPN’s face. Antron Brown had a horrific crash that proved the value of the canopy and driver capsule that DSR uses on their Top Fuel dragster. Tim Wilkerson had a half-track engine explosion that shredded his Mustang body and might have put some parts in the stands, although no one was reported to have been injured. Then Jack Beckman had an engine let go and destroyed yet another $50,000 Mopar body in a scenario we’ve witnessed too many times already. Oh, and did I mention they had a rain delay that forced ESPN2 to broadcast the qualifying live on Saturday?

Despite all of that, fans and drivers were looking forward to Sunday and some great racing until it started raining again after qualifying. That was when the wheels started coming off. It rained all night and all day Sunday until around 5 p.m. You would think that an all-day rain on Sunday would automatically bring a postponement until Monday. But no, for reasons I can only assume had to do with a race scheduled for the next weekend at Topeka, sponsorship, TV broadcast commitment and MONEY -- especially the MONEY!

The NHRA management opted to try to dry and prep a totally rain-soaked track in cold weather with just a couple of hours before the sun would set. I cannot imagine that anyone really believed that even the crack NHRA track crew could make it a track that would hold 10,000-hp nitro cars. They were right.

What the fans and the TV viewers at home saw when NHRA’s Graham Light called for Top Fuel eliminations, in my opinion, made NHRA management and the Top Fuel teams that tried to race on a totally unsafe track appear incompetent, uncaring, and unprofessional. And to make matters worse, the whole mess was broadcast in primetime Sunday night on national television when three pairs of Top Fuelers tried to race and not one them got down the track.

Only after Bob Vandergriff barely avoided rolling his fuel car and Clay Millican exploded another motor did they admit what everyone already knew: that was the track was unsafe.

With the NHRA pros facing a schedule of 12 races in the next 14 weeks, why couldn’t the NHRA just give everybody their qualifying points and money and send them off to Topeka or have decided at noon on Sunday to race on Monday? Either of those options were better than what they did.

I sympathize with Graham Light; I have the same job he has with my DRO AA/FC series and face the same issues.

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