in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of June 10, 2000
Saturday and it's raining here in Vancouver (and consequently, at Mission Raceway).... AND it's raining at Willowbank Raceway down in Australia. The only action at Mission this weekend is some "Street Car Shootout" (young Asian gangster-types with Honda Civics and UZI's ???), but the Winternationals is getting rained on at Willowbank.
Following a successful first day of qualifying on Friday, with five alky cars in the 5's, the first 4-second run by a Top Fuel car at Willowbank in recent memory and a fantastic 6.17 (by Robin Judd's "Moonshine Bandit") in the first session of Top Doorslammer, the action came to a damp halt early yesterday afternoon (Saturday; remember, they're 18 hours ahead of us downunder).
The only information that I've been able to gather so far is that racing will resume at 9:00 AM Sunday -- with no indication of how many, if any, more qualifying sessions are scheduled. If the weather cooperates, it may well be one of the longest race days in Australian drag racing history. If the rain continues.... we'll have a big problem. Aussies do not run races on Mondays, but since Monday is a holiday, they may just set a precedent and do so. Stay tuned for the latest developments.
On the other hand, the second day of qualifying at Alastaro Raceway (Finland) was completed under good weather conditions. The event is the second round of the FIA European Championships, and despite a lack of competitor numbers in the blown alky and fuel categories, the race looks like a winner in the performance department. They've already had another 6-second Pro Stock run, two alky funnies in the 5's and side-by-side 5.80's (by Jarmo Roivas and "Grumpy" Dave Wilson) in Top Methanol Dragster. There's only four alky dragsters on site and just three Top Fuel cars, but the Nordic fans are being well entertained by the other categories.
Closer to home, at the Goodguys Hot Rod Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, yesterday's first qualifying session saw the "Rookie of The Year", Jason Howell of Tacoma, Washington, take the #2 spot in the field, with an awesome 6.13 at over 230 mph. That's the good news. The bad news: lots of death smoke in the lights, a slight confrontation with the guardrail and very late chutes. Yes, he got it stopped, without too much apparent damage, but we'll be crossing our fingers until we see the updated qualifying list later today.
Now, what's been happening in the world over the last three weeks -- when I haven't posted anything on this page. Lots of bad news stories: fuel bike racer Chris Hampson was fatally injured at Santa Pod's Main Event on May 29th, casting a very dark pall over what had been a difficult, but ultimately successful weekend for the racers. The outpouring of sometimes emotional tributes to his memory reinforced the respect and admiration that racers have for each other. He will be sorely missed by all the bike racers and other racers in England and Europe.
Last weekend's inaugural Mopar Parts Canadian National Open at Grand Bend, Ontario's Motorplex was unfortunately the scene of yet another jet dragster fatality -- the second in a month. (Bill Gnegy died at Shreveport, Louisiana's Red River Raceway on an exhibition run in early May). This time it was Jack Dustman who lost his life, following a run on the final day of the event. And on the previous evening, Saturday, Doug Foxworth had a narrow escape when his Top Fuel car broke in half during a run, pitching him into the guardwall, and precipitating a trip to the hospital for attention to his, thankfully, not so serious injuries. Again, a very sad way to remember an otherwise successful event. Here's the very short release by IHRA on the accident, posted the day after the event.
DATELINE: "Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada - Monday, June 5, 2000"
It is with deep regret that IHRA announces the death of Jet Dragster driver Jack Dustman following a performance Sunday, June 4 at the Canadian Nationals at Grand Bend Motorplex.
Dustman's car drove off the end of the track and crashed when the parachute failed. The 41 year old driver from Malvern, Ohio was taken to South Huron Hospital in Exeter, where he was pronounced dead. The accident is currently under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police.
On the same weekend, at Joliet, Illinois' Route 66 Prestone Nationals, NHRA Top Fuel driver, Gary Scelzi, escaped injury in yet another crash. This one was the result of a delaminated tire that caused such tremendous vibration that the chassis broke in half behind the cockpit and ground itself into a ball of scrap metal as it slid down the track on its side. The incident started at the finish line, nanoseconds after Scelzi released the parachutes and could have had much worse results if the car had still been under power.
So, we've got four accidents -- two of them fatal -- all with different causes. At this time, I'm not going into any analysis of the accidents, but will state that I am becoming increasingly concerned about the situation developing with Goodyear tires. The news from Akron has been going from bad to worse as each day passes. Faced with mass defections to Hoosier in the Alcohol ranks, then promising to bring out a new made-for-alcohol tire earlier this year, they have, to do this date, failed to deliver.
But on a far more serious note, we've seen numerous, and still not satisfactorily explained, failures of tires on fuel cars this season. And those guys don't have any alternatives. It's Goodyear or nothing. (By the way, whatever happened to Firestone and the possible renewal of a tire war?) The failures started at the pre-season test sessions in Arizona, when Goodyear debuted their new Y2K fuel tire. Possibly the only real victim of the infamous "bug"? Since then, things have gone along relatively smoothly until the Englishtown debacle.
No one will ever convince me that there was too much traction at E-Town. The story just doesn't wash, no matter how many media releases NHRA and Goodyear issue on the subject. Although there were fewer failures at Route 66 Raceway last week, there were still many examples of delamination occuring, most notably in the Scelzi crash.
Let's face facts folks: There is a problem with those tires. Goodyear hasn't fixed it and won't even admit there is a problem. NHRA is sitting idly by (at least to all public appearances), letting this situation develop, and most likely won't step in until someone has paid a far-too-high a price to prove the thesis that there is a problem.
On a completely different, but still safety-related matter, NHRA has apparently backtracked on a directive issued to Federal-Mogul dragster competitors last month. I'm in possession of a letter issued by the Division Six Director, which states that rear wing struts had to be updated to the latest SFI 2.3J specs, no later than July 26, 2000. He quite correctly pointed out that the information had not been circulated to two rather important groups: the racers and the field offices of NHRA.
The letter stated that the chassis builders had been informed, but the word I have received from several of those builders is that there was absolutely NO consultation on the matter and it was unilaterally agreed to by SFI and the chairman of the Alcohol Rules Sub-Committee... with NO input from the affected chassis builders or racers. The issue was first brought to my attention by a local Top Alcohol (okay, Federal-Mogul) dragster racer, who ran into a rather large problem while trying to recertify his chassis recently.
The local chassis certifier stated that he could not tag the chassis as legal without the newly mandated wing struts in place. Reminded that those new specifications would not come into force for another few months, he somewhat reluctantly agreed to tag the chassis as legal at the time of inspection. (It was also pointed out to the tech man that no payment for his services would be forthcoming unless the SFI tag was placed on the chassis. So I've got to ask, which argument swayed him: commonsense or money?)
Now let's move ahead several weeks and lo and behold, there is another letter apparently circulating (still haven't seen it) that rescinds the earlier mandate to upgrade the wing struts. Say what? NHRA doing a flip-flop on a rules change? Is the earth rotating off its axis? Are cows jumping over the moon? Yes, it's true, at least according to one Southern California chassis builder. He states that any changes in the "alcohol dragster" specs will only come after thorough consultation and input from the chassis committee, consisting of himself, Dave Uyehara, Brad Hadman and Murf McKinney. End of the story? Stay tuned for the latest developments, which could be forthcoming any minute now.
There's just so many more topics that could be covered; after all, it has been three weeks since I've jotted down more than a few random notes on this page; but the reality is that the clock is rapidly ticking down to the time when I have to head off to work. Hopefully it will be a short night, as I have to be back to work at 8:00 AM tomorrow. You've heard the old cliche about "no rest for the wicked". Welcome to the Bad Boy's Club at Northern Thunder.
The next update may be on Monday, but that day's sort of booked up with some important work, like clearing a path through the wreckage of my apartment so that the Telus technician can hook up my long-awaited ADSL (high-speed internet) service. He'll be here on Tuesday... "between 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM" so that day will be pretty much a writeoff as I surf my brains out at warp speed and check out all the neat stuff that I've avoided for so long simply because it took forever to load on the screen.
On the other hand, since I won't have to be back at work until the following morning, maybe Tuesday night will see the next batch of news items on this page. Until then, here's the latest Top Fuel "success" story, courtesy of Shirley Muldowney and Rahn Tobler:
On Thursday of this week it was announced that Muldowney would be dropping out of the IHRA points chase following the next event on the schedule, the Amalie Oil Summer Nationals at Cordova, Illinois, next weekend. The main reason, at least for public consumption, was the loss of her Action Collectibles and GoRacing.com sponsorship for 2001. Isn't that next year? What has that got to do with this year? Muldowney stated how they had enjoyed "a long, exceptionally pleasant agreement" with the companies and how she was "particularly appreciative that (the CEO) had taken the time to talk to her personally with the news."
However, I've got to ask, what does next year have to do with this year? There was no mention of the sponsorship ceasing immediately, despite the abrupt change in direction that GoRacing.com has taken in the marketplace. (More on that deal by Tuesday). Didn't Muldowney have a signed agreement to represent the companies for the entire racing season? Contracts work both ways; the racer wants the money and the sponsor wants the benefits agreed to. Has she provided everything that was contracted for already? I'm just sitting here shaking my head after reading this story. I'm far from a marketing expert, but either there's a lot more to this story than what was released for public consumption... or someone isn't living up to their end of the bargain.
A secondary (or was it?) reason for packing in their IHRA campaign was some major differences with that association's policies, procedures and prize money. The prize money problem wasn't explained in Muldowney's media release, but Rahn Tobler stated that he was less than impressed with the "Black Flag" rule and the lack of consistency in applying the rules on a consistent basis, both by track operators and IHRA officials. You mean things aren't totally rosy in Bader-ville? Surprise, surprise, eh?
That sounds like the seed of another pretty good story, doesn't it? Tobler wasn't the first, and he certainly won't be the last, to cast a rock or three at the IHRA dictator, Bill Bader. While things are far from perfect at NHRA, at least it's not devolved into a one-man show, with all the inherent dangers of such an operation. Remember Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, etc.???? No, I wouldn't begin to compare "Uncle Bill" to those despots, but am reminded yet again of one of the truest cliches pertaining to dictatorial types: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely"
Remember, it's only been a few months since IHRA decided, without any physical proof, to issue lifetime bans to 12 bracket racers for allegedly using illegal "real-time computers" in their cars. Admittedly, one of them had refused to undergo technical inspection at an event in Florida late last year, but to issue lifetime bans without evidence, a hearing, or any recourse... that's the definition of despotical behaviour. Who's next? What's next?
Okay, I'm definitely out of time now. Time to log on, upload this posting and then head off to work. Then come home to a mailbox overflowing with nasty-grams from everybody I've managed to anger and upset with today's "editorial". Remember, if you don't like reading what I've written, the next website is just a mouse click away. If you feel like responding to anything on this page, we've got just the ticket: the BACKFIRE! page. So light 'em up and fire away!
And as always, for all the really important news from the wide, wild, weird world of drag racing, keep coming back to Northern Thunder on a regular basis. Even if we're not that regular.
Maybe if I'd paid the extra dough to get first-class postal delivery, I could have scooped Mr. Pfister on the latest news about the racers suspended for their actions at the Mission Raceway Federal-Mogul event last month. Some pretty serious charges were levelled at the people involved; none of them involving on-track activities and at first glance, the penalties imposed are appropriate. Of course we know, even though we try to ignore it at times, there are always two sides to a story. Anybody care to chip in that second side?