The NHRA continues to tinker with ways to slow down the nitro cars, presumably so Top Fuel and Funny Car can return to quarter-mile competition. (I say presumably because they won't tell us why they're testing things so we are left to guess).
In actuality, it doesn't matter because after the sport suffered yet another unfortunate fatality at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., when Top Alcohol Funny Car pilot Neil Parker went off the top end of the way-too-short racetrack and was killed, I think it's time to pull the plug on all quarter-mile racing for any class of cars that routinely goes more than 200 mph.
Parker's crash, which looked a lot like an instant replay of Scott Kalitta's fatal accident at the same facility two years ago, came after a 249-mph run, ironically a career-best pass for the New Jersey favorite. Like Kalitta's wreck, Parker's 'chutes didn't deploy and he was still moving pretty darn fast when he entered the gravel trap and netting. We won't have official word of exactly what happened until the New Jersey State Police complete their investigation. Even then, the ultimate result will be the same -- we lost another driver.
Everyone at the track was pretty rattled after the accident. Rumors swirled that the state troopers would close the track for the weekend and, even though the costs would have been astronomical to come back at a later date, no one seemed upset about that prospect.
I spoke with lots of drivers in many different categories that day and many of them indicated that 1,000-foot racing, something no one particularly cared for when it was first introduced, is probably something NHRA should immediately look into for Pro Mod, Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, and even Pro Stock, especially at these older tracks that were built when top speeds were just a touch more than 200 mph.
I'm not an expert, but instantly gaining 320 feet of shutdown area and throwing the parachutes at terminal speeds lower than the ones they're reaching now has to equal a safer playing field.
Sure it bucks tradition and I know there aren't any songs about "burning up the 1,000 foot," but if it saves lives isn't it worthwhile?
In a perfect world we'd have the money and space to make every track on the circuit two miles long. Heck, while we're at it, let's put roofs on these things and make rain delays a thing of the past. Unfortunately, we're not racing in a perfect world.
Whenever we go to E-town or Pomona or any of the other short tracks we visit, it's a virtual lock that someone is going in the sand traps. We all talk about it in the pressroom because we know it's going to happen. And don't think for a moment that I want to scratch Old Bridge off the schedule. Trust me, the NHRA needs the Napp family in this sport. They are good people and they care a great deal about drag racing.
No matter where they race, drivers know the sport is dangerous and that they can lose their lives on any given run, but NHRA should always strive to make things as safe as humanly possible.
I could spend hours bashing NHRA, in fact it's a popular pastime in the pits, but I will say the organization, which was founded on safety, always does the right thing in regards to taking care of its participants. NHRA needs to realize, as do the fans, that pulling back to 1,000 feet is the right thing to do. Admit it; you're used to it by now any way.
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