in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of December 11, 1999
It's been more than a month since the NHRA national event season ended with the AAA Finals at Pomona. However, the fuel engine explosions at the last four races of the year are still ringing in many peoples' ears. Since the boomer to end all boomers by Doug Herbert, the net has been inundated with news and opinions as to the cause and effect of such incidents.
Both NHRA and IHRA have taken preliminary steps to cure the problems, but at this point all their actions fall into the category of "proposed." A late season rule change by NHRA, mandating the immediate installation of ballistic valve cover restraints is the only firm move so far. And strange as it seems, that safety equipment addition may have been, and I stress, may, have been the cause of Herbert's spectacular.
The biggest news from NHRA so far, and this comes via an alleged release to members of PRO (Professional Racers Owners Organization), with NO confirmation yet from NHRA, concerns a proposed nitro percentage limitation for 2000. Yes, that's right, no more "can, lid and label" tune-ups; now the racers will have to run no more than 85% nitro. According to the release, NHRA is investigating the possibility of using a "spec" fuel, with a premixed blend of nitro and alky, with an indicator to show whether the fuel has been tampered with in any way. That, so far, is the only indication of NHRA doing anything to address the problem(s).
Earlier this week, I found a copy of a letter from Bill Bader (president of IHRA) to all their Top Fuel racers, with proposals for some major changes to their rules for 2000. Interestingly, there was no mention of a percentage limitation, instead, a limitation on fuel pump volume to no more than 55 GPM. This measure would be policed by testing and sealing all pumps during tech inspection at each event. And the penalties for non-compliers are rather severe: $10,000 fine, loss of points and a two-race suspension.
In addition, IHRA is looking at mandating a "pan pressure shutoff switch", which would automatically close the throttle when pan pressure exceeded 14 psi. (A sudden increase in pan pressure is a sure indicator of impending engine death). The other major highlights of Bader's letter are the requirement of larger vent tubes (from the valve covers), "ballistic oil pans with side deflector panels", and a "black flag" rule for racers leaving oil and/or engine parts on the track. Wow, are they getting serious or what? To see the full letter, check out IHRA Top Fuel 2000.
While I stated earlier that all these "proposals" are just that, proposals, it seems certain that some, if not all, of these new ideas to control the carnage in the fuel ranks will come into effect in the new year. And let's face it, the changes can't come too soon. The past year has seen all-time performance records set in Top Fuel, along with an all-time high in expenditures on engine and driveline parts. The number of one-sided races, where one car flies and the other blazes the tires, if both cars don't go up in smoke, has been at an all-time high, too. The amount of time lost to cleanup operations obviously set new records, too.
We can't continue at this pace. The racers aren't having any fun, the fans are bored, the sponsors are looking elsewhere, the officials are losing patience with the endless delays, the television networks don't see an entertaining spectacle that could translate into a marketable commodity. In short, everyone is losing. Really the only people gaining, but only in the short term, are the parts manufacturers and suppliers. I say "short term" because when the racers run out of money, which many are doing with the current rate of destruction, then there won't be any customers left to buy the parts. In the end, everyone loses.
One factor that may be at least partly responsible for all this damage is the recently introduced five-disc clutch. There hasn't been much comment (at least on the net) about whether or not this is the case, but I suspect that the increased loading on the engine by that fifth disc is pushing many of the engines to the point of failure. Admitting (by default) that his TFX-96 block wasn't up to the job anymore, John Rodeck brought out the TFX-2K forged block late this year; but even that hasn't been enough to cope with the engine loading in all cases.
I'm not much of a tuner, even on alcohol, and definitely have no knowledge of how a nitro motor really works, but that five-disc clutch, when combined with an 80 GPM, yes, eighty gallons per minute, fuel pump, may be one of the prime culprits in the current cycle of destruction. The way it works, if you didn't already know, is the clutch lugs the engine down, causing the engine to want more fuel, which the pump provides. The engine then makes more power, causing the clutch to attempt to "lock-up", loading the engine even harder, causing it to want more fuel . . . and on and on it goes; until the tires can't cope with the power, or the internal engine parts fail due to the stress of 6,000 . . . or 7,000 . . . or however much horsepower they really produce. I don't think anyone knows the answer to that question.
The next few months will indeed be interesting times, as the associations and racers struggle with this problem, but for the sake of everyone connected with the sport, answers must be found, and soon. Maybe the time for radical changes in the way fuel engines are run is not at hand, and there aren't any "magic bullets" lurking on the horizon, at least to my knowledge, but the answer(s) to the problem must be found. Stay tuned for all the news, views and rumours in the coming days, weeks and months. It will be interesting, that's guaranteed!
Courtesy of Drag Racing Online, we've found some of the latest gossip, some of it, surprisingly enough, concerning Doug Herbert's engine explosion. But they've also dug up some news about IHRA's title rights problems for next year and how the stock market may have affected some possible fuel racer sponsorships for next season. Read on for the latest from Agent 1320 (aka: Dave Densmore).
You Might Be Able To Figure Out How To Control The Nitro Motor Explosions But You Will Never Control The Rumor Mill!
Agent 1320 has heard from several usually reliable sources that NHRA is taking steps to slow down or stop the rash of Top Fuel and Fuel flopper engine explosions. We hear that NHRA was contacted by the state of California after Doug Herbert's incident by letter. Supposedly, the letter states that California citizens are being injured by explosions on L.A. County owned property and the state would like to know what they (the NHRA) are doing to prevent any more of these incidents.
Our sources tell us that NHRA is in negotiations with a well known Top Fuel/Funny Car ex-crew chief (Dale Armstrong?) with the idea of him developing some solutions to the problem through dialog with the Top Fuel and Funny Car teams.
Drag Racing Online contacted an NHRA official and told him what we had been told and we were assured that he had heard nothing to back up these rumors. So for the time being these rumors will be just that, rumors, but if they are true. Things could get very interesting in drag racing, very quick.
Doug Herbert's engine explosion on Friday night at the AAA Finals may have brought to an end NHRA's policy of bringing VIPs to the starting line to experience the ground shaking power of Top Fuel dragsters. Flying shrapnel, which injured 14 photographers and spectators, could as easily have taken out a corporate CEO, which certainly would not have helped the sport's already fragile image.
Obviously, the containment systems currently in place don't work. Stuff still flies off the top of engines and liquids still are blasted out the bottom. It's one thing when attrition ruins a live television shot or extends one round of racing to almost two hours. It's quite another when those who pay to watch the sport wind up in the hospital.
Until we devise a system that keeps parts and pieces confined within the guardwalls, ours no longer can be considered a fan friendly sport; and that's what we always have had going for us. Ideas anyone?
IHRA Still Searching for Series Sponsor?
Sources tell Agent 1320 that some time during the 1999 season IHRA management informed Snap-On tools that they could be a major associate sponsor but not the main title rights sponsor. Supposedly Snap-On declined the major associate offer and IHRA went on a search to replace them. The hot rumor at the PRI Show was that IHRA was going to announce that the series sponsor would be goracing.com. However, the drop of parent company Action Collectibles stock from a high of around $48 a share to around $15 a share may have had something to do with the lack of announcement at the PRI show.
Go Racing OR No Racing; Only Time Will Tell
Cruz Pedregon carried the goracing sponsorship at several races during the 1999 season. It was also rumored that either goracing.com or Action Collectibles might also sponsor Shirley Muldowney. Whether Pedregon, Muldowney or anyone else will get sponsorship help from the Action group is subject to debate, in light of the stock market difficulties.
Well, is that enough for one day? Well, it's all I've got time for today anyway. I'm still trying to find out how Jim Grant (Langley, BC) did at Melbourne's Calder Park Raceway this weekend in Australia. Jim was making his downunder debut in his '68 Dodge Dart doorslammer at Calder's Victorian Championships. Jim wasn't the headliner of the meeting, which was topped by the second round of the Australian Top Fuel Championship. But, as I write this on Saturday afternoon (which is Sunday morning in OZ), there's still been no word on what happened at the race. Calder Park's website never posts the results, so I'm hoping that one of my Australian contacts, including Jim himself, comes through with the details.
Stay tuned for that report, and whatever late-breaking news from the world of drag racing comes through the in-box. As always, all the news (even if we have to make it up) is here at Northern Thunder's "What's New" page.