NHRA Oil-Down Penalties: Make a Rule and They Will Find the Solution

The pro teams have sure been whining a lot about the NHRA’s new, strict oil-down rules. Under the new rules you lose points and receive monetary fines from the first oil-down of the season on, and with each subsequent oil-down of the track Top Fuel and Funny Car teams receive ever higher fines and points losses, up to $18,000 and 50 points for your tenth oil-down.

The teams have been giving lip service to the point that the NHRA needs to move the show along faster if it hopes to get more live coverage and priority coverage on TV, while quickly saying that the penalties are all but useless and it’s just kicking a dead horse when it’s down. Hold on; back the truck up.

More and better TV coverage is everything; our sport will live or die on better TV coverage. TV is what brings big sponsors into the sport. Mainstream TV coverage is the difference between the NFL and the Xtreme Roller Skating Lacrosse League. One is in tens of millions of homes via television and the other is on a few people’s Facebook pages. And in order to get better coverage on TV we need more live coverage and we need that live coverage to move along quickly and retain viewers’ attention and entertain them fully.

On Sunday morning, February 8, I stood on the Pomona starting line next to NHRA President Tom Compton before the driver introductions started. I told Tom that I was in favor of their new oil-down penalties. The first thing Tom said was, “It’s all about the TV coverage.” My point exactly.

Yes, I understand that if a top fuel or fuel funny car just oiled down the lane, the team has probably suffered tens of thousands of dollars of parts’ loss. But that loss is already built into the budget, or it should be. Nitro cars with 10,000 horsepower break parts. The amazing thing isn’t that they break parts, it’s that they don’t do it much more often than they do. Ten thousand horsepower? Excuse me? That’s insane, that’s wizardry, that’s pushing the laws of physics to such an extreme that the very laws themselves whimper and cringe.

As a sportsman crew chief it just amazes me that the pros can tear down the engine and supercharger to bare bones, rebuild it, get all of the wires and hoses connected, and have the whole car back in the staging lanes ready to run in a little over an hour. Are you kidding me? On our Mopar Max Maulin’ Magnum SRT8 late model HEMI car, it takes an hour to change the 16 spark plugs we have in the tight confines of a late model engine bay. And the pros can strip down the engine and rebuild it, rebuild a clutch pack that’s 800 degrees Fahrenheit when it comes to the pits, read the data logs, adjust the tune, and get back to the lanes. Hell, NASCAR or Indy car or Formula 1 teams would faint dead if they had to do that kind of work in that timeframe.

But that aside, history shows that Americans can accomplish whatever it takes to achieve a goal. We are the greatest engineers and innovators in the history of the world. When President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961, called for America to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth, the technology to launch a human out of the atmosphere didn’t even exist. Yet only eight years later, America had invented the solid state transistor, Velcro, the most powerful booster rockets ever built (to this day!), taken computers that only ten years early were so large they required a huge warehouse to hold and made them small enough to fit in the tiny confines of the lunar landing module, and managed to launch a million pound machine that successfully put two humans on the surface of the moon a quarter of a million miles away, and returned them to Earth.