Volume X, Issue 7, Page 82

It is time for a change. Deal with it.

I know the Internet and chat rooms are full of all sorts of comments about the decision NHRA made to shorten the timed distance for fuel cars from 1320 feet to 1000 feet. I commend NHRA for making the change but I have to ask myself why it takes death to force changes in motorsports.

I have heard the arguments that go like this: “Hey, it’s a dangerous sport, get used to it” or “Going 300+ mph is dangerous, and the drivers know the risk when they put the helmet on” or “Why does just one accident change the tradition of the sport?” Then my favorite complaint of all: “If it isn’t quarter-mile racing the spectators will all stay home and the bleachers will be empty.”

Are you freakin’ kidding me? Nobody wants to see brave young men and women involved in a fatal accident. The excitement, the flames, the smoke and the fastest accelerating vehicles on wheels are what attract spectators. It is not the crashing or injuries. It is the “SHOW” that puts butts in bleachers.

Now the NHRA has finally decided the tracks they have are not properly prepared to handle the speeds of the fuel cars. Good for them. I’m glad they took at least the first step to protect the professionals.

Now the pressure will be on NHRA to make sure the “show” they present is fast-paced and entertaining. I doubt if 20% of the paying spectators will even realize the difference. How many race tracks even have grandstands that go to the 1000-foot mark? Most end at or near the eighth-mile mark. I do believe they will see closer and more side by side racing. Everything changes and gets better; this is going to make fuel racing better in every aspect.

I really hope NHRA decides to mandate all NHRA quarter-mile tracks to change to a maximum of 1000 feet for 2009 if not immediately. It has been my belief that eighth mile would be even a better change for many reasons. Driver safety is first on my list but second to that is we need to make sure the sport stays “insurable” and that NHRA/IHRA can find an insurance company to underwrite the risks so track owners can open their tracks at all.

If 1000 feet seems okay, why not FIX the problem and run eighth mile?

I received some very interesting facts from fellow racer, Bob Mendenhall of Lakeside, CA.

(There is your credit for your work, Bob ; -)

“By using the data from Bret Kepner’s article on the length of NHRA drag strips I came up with the following information,” Bob wrote.

Let’s use Pomona as an example because it has the shortest shutdown distance.

  1. Going from 1320’ to 1000’ you gain the following: Approximate speed reduction: 330 mph to 303 mph (8% reduction in speed). 484 ft/sec. to 477 ft/sec. That is 37 ft/sec less they would be traveling. This would result in an increase in shut-down distance from 2100 ft to 2420 ft (320 ft. more room or about 13% more room). That results in a combined improvement of 8% less speed and 13% more stopping distance.

  2. Going from 1320’ to 660’ (1/8 mile) you gain the following: Approximate speed reduction: 330 mph to 267 mph or (16.4% reduction in speed). 484 ft/sec to 405 ft/sec. That is 79 ft/sec less they would be traveling. This would result in an increase in shut-down distance from 2100 ft to 2760 ft (660’ more room or about 23.9% more room.) That results in a combined improvement of 16.4% less speed and nearly 24% more stopping distance.

Some obvious conclusions can come from this type of data.

  1. Why are they running cars at any speed over 250 mph on this short of a track? Is the answer “Because we always have in the past”? That is an answer that can get people injured and killed.

  2. Does anyone really think the “show” and excitement of the event will be diminished because of a shorter distance? These fuel cars will still run over 270 mph in the 660’ (1/8) with flames over the roof and more of the races will be side by side due to less parts breakage. The difference is the shorter distance means the drivers can possibly return for the next round if they have a ‘chute failure or a mechanical failure.

  3. Why would the Sportsman racers care what distance they raced as long as they are still racing each other to the finish line and have an equal chance at a victory?

My opinion is all racing should be changed to eighth mile. The racing is much closer at the finish line, reaction time of the driver becomes a little more important and the overall expenses are reduced as the eighth mile is much easier on all parts in the cars.  Some of the best races I have ever attended were eighth-mile events. If you haven’t sat at the eighth-mile finish line at a big bucks bracket race or a local Funny Car show, you are missing some fun.

Last weekend we watched Tim Wilkerson (yeah, the NHRA points leader) match race Jack Wyatt on the eighth mile at Eddyville Raceway Park. The bleachers were packed and the excitement they brought with burnouts to the finish line was as good as it gets. Nothing like sitting at the finish line watching a fuel car go by at 260 mph with flames over the roof!
The challenge is this: Will NHRA be the leader it needs to be, or will they try a Band-Aid approach and see what happens? Their bleachers are about half empty now, maybe a better show will bring people back.  


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