Volume X, Issue 8, Page 100

Taking a PROactive Look at Divisional Track Safety – How much longer are we going to run on Armco tracks?

f any one thing has happened in light of the Scott Kalitta tragedy, it seems that the racers and the NHRA are taking a more proactive look at the overall safety.  Some may call the recent change to 1000’ a ‘knee jerk’ reaction, but the move seems to be effective and has a high level of support among the professional drivers.  Right now, probably more than any other time in the history of our sport, we have many of the greatest minds we have all working together towards the goal of making our sport safer.

That said, the powers that be in Glendora are focusing their efforts on the nitro categories and making the national event tracks safer.  However, I think we need to take a real hard look at some of the divisional tracks we run at. 

Why not take this proactive stance towards driver safety to the divisional level?  How much longer are we going to run alcohol cars, or any fast car for that matter, on Armco tracks?  Some tracks have no sand or net and quite a few obstacles at the end.  Some tracks are pretty short.   When NHRA develops the ‘standard’ for the national event tracks, will there be at least some modified version for divisional tracks?

I think the time to act is now.  Let’s not wait until someone else gets hurt or killed to say we should have done something.  While I think the alcohol cars are the most at risk due to the speed, Armco is a safety issue for any fast car.  Two years ago in Noble, Okla., a Top Sportsman racer crashed in the lights.  The car hit the Armco railing at such an angle that it started peeling sections of the Armco off into the cockpit.  By the Grace of God, the railing went between the back of the driver’s seat and the wheel tub.  A few inches forward and we could have had a fatality, or at best a very, very severe injury.   We have several low to mid six second Comp classes now as well, which poses a danger to them.

To give NHRA some credit, over the past five years or so, we have seen some of the bad tracks dropped from the Lucas Oil Series.  Some altogether, others have dropped the alcohol cars.  Many tracks have upgraded to concrete guard walls, but only go to the finish line, then have Armco, which is the worst place to have it.  Also, not all guard walls are created equal.  Some tracks have K-wall sections, which are the jointed sections that they use to put up in construction zones, or some variations of it.  These joints have been known to grab parts of a car that may be ‘riding’ down the wall. 

Walls, shutdown and layout aside, there are still some racing surfaces out there not worthy of 270 mph alcohol cars.  How many times have you heard the phrase, “we’re going faster than the fuel cars were when they dropped them from the divisionals 20+ years ago.”   Some of these track surfaces aren’t up to par for the speeds the alcohol cars are going. 

Granted, we’re racing on facilities that are much safer relative to what they had back then.  That’s no excuse, however.  Fuel cars of yesteryear went 250 mph + with old-style 3 bar roll cages.  That doesn’t make it ok to put one on a 230 mph Top Dragster.  When better safety technology comes out, it’s the NHRA’s duty to see to it that it finds its way into the rule book. 

Top Alcohol racers spend thousands each year in upkeep on safety equipment.  New regulations mandating lateral head supports, foam seat inserts, helmet shrouds and the like cost many racers a good chunk of change on top of that.  At each event, every driver’s safety equipment is checked and sometimes thrown out.  The bottom line is that the tracks we race on should be held to the same standard!

In terms of guard walls (or rails), shutdown, sand traps, barriers, etc., many tracks are far from having the latest safety design.  Let’s be proactive and set a standard for the divisional tracks.  We also need to look at the speeds these cars are going. 

NHRA doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to making rules to slow cars down.  The 92 OD TAFC rule was supposed to slow the cars down enough that roots would be competitive again.  Plus it was going to save the racers tons of money.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, all they did was rev them up.  It slowed them down, but not near as much as they were shooting for.  The same could be said for the A/FD nitro reductions.  Slowed them down, just not as much as they had intended.  Just about all of these rules cost the racers lots of money.

Maybe at some of the shorter divisional tracks, 1000’ needs to be adopted if the event is to be conducted there.  If a track has Armco, it shouldn’t be run on at all, or in the case of the track that has a concrete wall to the quarter, perhaps adopt 1/8 mile length. 

The point being that a proactive stance needs to be taken.  And it needs to happen now.  Glendora is busy trying to fix the fuel cars and their tracks.  Let’s use the newly formed network of the Sportsman Racing Advisory Council to take this issue head on.  To be fair to the tracks, if changes are going to be mandated for next year, they need to know as soon as possible.  I’d hate to see NHRA do them like they do the racers and announce a major rule change a few weeks before the season starts.

Well, now that you’re on the tire, go forth and spread the good word.  Don’t forget to drop us a line, or stop by one of my websites at www.InsideTopAlcohol.com, www.InsideCompRacing.com or www.InsideFastBrackets.com. 

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