in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of May 21, 2000
Today's "update" is just going to be a grab-bag of notes, quotes, views and news, with no particular focus and nothing arranged in any particular order. As something oozes to the surface in the bubbling caludron of thoughts heating inside my skull . . . hang on Bob, this is drag racing, not some horror movie . . . or is it?
Think you've seen/heard/done it all? Not by half, mate. This weekend's NHRA Matco Tools Spring Super Nationals presented by Racing Champions is already setting records for downright weirdness. If you haven't been following the "action" through the official sources, here's a very condensed recap: Let's start with two pictures that pretty much sum up the highlights of the weekend -- so far.
That's about all that happened on Thursday. Friday saw a late start, and several false starts, before qualifying got underway in the afternoon. Cold temperatures and high humidity conspired to produce a weak show with lots of tire smoke, the occasional good run and a disjointed, incomplete day. With the weather and track conditions changing literally by the minute, NHRA was very hard pressed to present any action and to be fair, did their best.
They managed to get every car that was ready to run, down the track at least once, until more dampness and an approaching curfew cut the second day short at 7:30 pm. Saturday saw another late start, an even more scrambled schedule and the first postponement of the event. The Pro Stock shootout was put off until the Prestone Nationals at Route 66 Raceway on June 3rd. And then things went from bad to worse.
The second qualifying session for the fuel cars saw several incidents, the most serious of which involved Whit Bazemore's funny car. Nearing the finish line, he lost a rear tire in explosive fashion, literally destroying the body as the tire tore up the carbon fibre shell. Other victims of the same problem, but to a much lesser extent, were Frank Pedregon (C-S-K #2 funny car) and several Top Fuel teams that experienced rear wing damage when chunks of tire tread hit them.
Another bad batch of Goodyears? Too much tirespin? No, not hardly. In fact, according to NHRA, the problem was one of too much traction on the top end of the race track. In their media releases about the situation, they cited the "immense traction, leading to excessive heat in the tires." Too much traction on a cold track? Are you serious? Their answer to the situation was to attempt to "decrease traction near the finish line."
In my opinion, and as you all know, I'm not an expert at anything, except possibly exposing my ignorance on a regular basis, the tire problems have nothing to do with too much traction. They have everything to do with a great difference in the temperature of the tires and the track.
I have personally witnessed a similar phenomenon in the last few years at the Australian Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway. No exploded tires, thank goodness, but nearly every fuel car burnt the center out of the tread on each run. The explanation given downunder was the difference in temperature between the hot tire tread and the cold asphalt surface of the race track. Apparently, the difference in temperatures caused the tread to delaminate from the carcass of the tire. To my knowledge, this weekend's events are the first for an NHRA race.
So what happened today after their attempts to reduce traction? The first action was to postpone the Top Fuel and Funny Car eliminations until the weekend of September 8-9. Pretty radical, eh? They were planning to hold eliminations for all other categories, some of whom only had two qualifying attempts, today. They did even get started with Stock eliminator and Super Comp before the rains came down again and postponed the entire event until the September 8-9 weekend.
At this writing (3:00 pm), no official announcement of a schedule for the rain date has been made. The postponement of the fuel car racing, announced earlier today, mentioned that time trials would be held on the Saturday and eliminations -- only for the already qualified (after two sessions) cars -- would be held on the Sunday.
For several categories, like Top Fuel, Federal-Mogul Dragster and Funny Car, the lack of further qualifying sessions is not a problem. With less than full fields, everybody who showed up is in the field. For the Funny Cars, five cars are on the outside, and probably not too happy that they won't have another chance to bump into the show. However, that may all be changed before I even post this update.
One Top Fuel owner, Ralph White, may be more than a little disappointed too. He's been running this year with Mike Smith driving, but that arrangement dissolved after their last appearance at Houston's O'Reilly Nationals in April. White brought his car to Englishtown without a driver confirmed, but with the intention to put someone in the seat and qualify.
His first choice, Melanie Troxel, arrived at the track, but without her firesuit. (The car she drove earlier this year, the former In-n-Out Burger car of Jerry Darien, is currently parked due to the usual lack of funds). Hmm, a bit of miscommunication between Troxel and White, or what? Second choice, Bruce Larson (of Sentry Funny Car and Don Garlits' Swamp Rat fame) did have a current license, but NHRA ruled that he was an "inactive" driver.
Sidenote: When it comes to a fuel "license", NHRA seems to have so many secret blackbook rules and regulations, that I'm sure they just make them up as they go along. It all seems to depend on the particular racer and the particular official that makes the decision. Need we rehash the controversy that "erupted" at last year's Mission Raceway nitro funny car match race? No, I didn't think so.
Back to Ralph White. Two down and one (or is that two?) to go. Next on the list was Joe Amato employee, Bill Walsh, who, despite testing in Joe's car on a seemingly regular basis, was currently unlicensed. Rapidly running out of options, the word on Saturday night was that Mike Dunn was being contacted in a last-ditch attempt to at least grab the $9000 first-round money that was going begging. Then came the Sunday postponement and the announcement that only qualified cars would be allowed to run at the rain date. End of story? We'll see, won't we?
What about all the action in the Federal-Mogul categories, Bob? Like what? Like the 12 funny cars? Like the 16 dragsters (yes, sports fans, a full field) with a bubble of 9.38? Yes, there were some great runs, like David Hirata's low ET and top speed (so far) pass of 5.40 at 268 mph. Or the decent laps turned in by the other A/Fuel cars; four out of the top five qualifiers were injected nitro cars. Or we could talk about Steve Harker's (Brisbane, Australia) first round, top qualifying position. But then he slipped down to fifth on the final, after two rounds, list.
No, there really wasn't much to write home about, or write a report about, from Englishtown this weekend. Of course that didn't stop me from filling a few pages with a lot of words about not much action, did it? From here, it's onward and onward, with the Castrol Nationals at the Texas Motorplex next weekend and the Prestone Nationals at Route 66 Raceway on the following weekend. Time for some better weather eh, NHRA? With their luck, the next two events will either experience record rainfall or temperatures so high that the asphalt melts.
So what's happening elsewhere today? There was a Formula One race from Germany on the tube earlier today, with the usual suspects winning. Some German guy in a red car and a Finn in a grey car took the top two spots. Since the producers, German of course, only trained the cameras on their countryman, I didn't see too much of the rest of the field. Of course, with only ten out of twenty-one starters completing the rain-soaked race, there wasn't a lot to watch.
Today was also the final day of qualifying for the "fabled" Indianapolis 500. Remember that race? The single largest one-day sporting event in the world is what they once called it. Is it just me, or is the Indy 500 pretty much irrelevant these days? Since Tony George broke away from the CART crowd and set up his own Indy Racing League, the stature of the event has gone steadily downhill.
It once attracted major television coverage of virtually everything that moved or breathed at the Brickyard. Now what we do get? This morning, there was sixty minutes of absolutely nothing, other than replays of earlier action and the de-rigeur driver interviews and lots of gossip about who was trying to buy their way into a car to make a last-ditch attempt for glory. In the past, they had some real names to focus on: A.J. Foyt, the Unsers, the Andrettis, etc., etc. and now who do they have? Lyn St. James, Billy Boat and some 19-year-old girl. Tradition sure isn't worth what it used to be, eh?
For the last hour, I've been channel surfing, trying to find some station covering the final hour of qualifying. No luck and the TV guide doesn't list anything, even on a tape-delayed basis. Informercials, a hockey game (okay, that IS important, at least in Canada), a basketball game, golf and an old Rambo movie are about all I can find. Except on the Canadian sports network (TSN), that is. You see, in Canada we have a national sports network with slightly different priorities: two-and-a-half hours of .... hang on for this one .... A DOG SHOW.
Need I say more? Let's just change the subject and see what's happening at other racing venues this weekend. Way down south, at the star-crossed Lowe's Motor Speedway (Charlotte Motor Speedway before they sold the name), the Winston, one of the premier events on the NASCAR calendar, took place last night. The usual assortment of crashes, bangs and blow-ups combined to give the fans the usual close finish, won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Intimidator II?) Then the roof, actually the bridge, caved in.
As the large crowd was leaving the facility, a spectator overpass collapsed, injuring nearly 100 people, some critically. The pictures in this morning's newspaper showed a scene of mass confusion, with dozens of rescue vehicles and hundreds of emergency workers milling about. After last year's fatalities at the speedway, when a tire flew into the grandstands, this accident has got to stamp Lowe's as a track with a jinx.
What's next? And how does all this bad publicity go down at Lowe's (home improvement chain) headquarters? Hey, doesn't that sound like the seed for a story about the "baggage" that some sponsors can inherit when they sign a marketing agreement? After all, who can forget the Dan Pastorini - Coors partnership of the 1980's? Remember the two, count 'em, two drunk driving arrests that Dan had in the space of six weeks .... about a week before their contract ended. Major coincidence, eh? Or the K.C. Spurlock - Bob Vandergriff - Fruit of The Loom deal that started going decidely downhill after a "live - in the pits" brawl during a national event?
Well, let's leave that subject for another day; just like all the other "hot" (as in too hot for me to handle) topics that I'd love to write about, but can't afford to risk writing about. I'm already on the speed dial for more than one legal firm for past transgressions it seems. Say what? Like I just said, another day... or two... or so.
Any more racing action that you can report on this weekend, Bob? There was an NHRA Division Four Federal-Mogul series race scheduled at Hallsville, Texas. Scheduled, as in the past tense, as Friday's rainout led to Saturday's thunderstorms and a postponement for a few weeks. There was even a race scheduled for my local track, Mission Raceway this weekend. Yesterday's action was cut short with rain in the late afternoon and today's proceedings were probably a complete wipeout, with heavy rain falling non-stop since yesterday.
Highlight, or more correctly, lowlight of the day was motorcycle racer Jim Sibley, being struck in the staging lanes, by a .... get ready for this one.... an out-of-control snowmobile. Only in Canada. Well, not really, but this does seem just too typical for the land of ice and snow, doesn't it? Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, other than to Jim's pride, and after a short trip to the local hospital, he was seen limping around the pits in search of his favourite adult beverage at last report.
So what about all the other stuff you were going to write about today, Bob? Like the latest scoop on the "under the table" or "behind the back" or "up the backside" NHRA rule change on alcohol dragster wing struts? Or the "what's happened to Jim Grant?" report. Or the latest from Brad Hadman's Progressive Metalcraft shop? Or the latest news from Australia? Or the latest news about how much broker I am -- didn't tell you about the $1000 brake (and a few other pieces that were falling off...) job on my truck this week, did I?
Well, for the answers to all those leading questions, and even more stuff that you didn't want to know about, you'll just have to come back tomorrow. Yes, I know it's Monday, and that usually means at least Wednesday before I resurface. BUT, tomorrow's a holiday here in Canada -- some dead queen's birthday party or something like that -- and I've got a day off work. So there's just no excuse for not coming back with all the stuff that I'd orginally planned to write about today.
And for once, I'll be applying one of the cardinal rules of good journalism: always keep your readers wanting more. But that's based on the assumption that they wanted anything in the first place, isn't it? Details, details.... So, stay tuned to this channel for the all the latest news from the wide, wild, weird world of drag racing. And the way things are going these days, I don't even have to make any of it up anymore. The truth really is getting stranger than fiction.