in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of August 30, 2000
File this one under the "Amazing Coincidence" heading: Perusing the results from this past weekend's "IHRA World Nationals" (held at their flagship track, Norwalk Raceway Park, owned by Admiral Bill Bader), brought some interesting facts to light in the Pro Modified division.
After the blown alcohol cars dominated the class for the last year or so, IHRA has enacted a series of rules changes to eliminate the competitive advantage they've enjoyed. This "competitive advantage" was ruining the Pro Mod class, according to the nitrous racers, and the IHRA rules czar, Bill Bader. But have the blown cars really had the upper hand?
Yes, they have laid down some awesome runs, when the track and weather conditions have combined to allow them to do so. And that situation usually exists at only two or three events on the national event calendar. For the most part, the IHRA schedule is concentrated in the summer months, at tracks known for a lack of traction, and during hot, humid weather.
It's just occured to me recently that an interesting comparison could be drawn between the IHRA's Pro Modified and NHRA's Federal-Mogul Dragster classes. In each class we have two radically different combinations trying to compete on a "level playing field". And despite the best efforts (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt) of both sanctioning bodies, none of the racers in the aforementioned classes are really happy with the results.
On paper, the Pro Mod equation seems closer to equality than the dragster deal. But to do so, a continuing series of rules changes, six at last count this season alone, have been enacted. Some have been minor, like the elimination of four-speed Lencos (for the blower cars), as only one team was using such a unit. Likewise, the change in rear gear ratios, from 4.71 to 4.56 -- and back to 4.71 (maximum numerical), seems minor -- on the surface. After all, these guys are going through a gearset almost every weekend, aren't they?
The mid-season banning of billet heads was another matter altogether. Several teams have been forced to park their cars, or switch to a sportsman class, due to the complete unavailability of replacement cast heads in the foreseeable future. Can you even imagine how bad they've got to feel when, after spending serious dollars to put together a competitive combination, they find that they've been put out of business, literally overnight?
Now let's look at that word - combination - again. All these rules changes have altered, significantly, the combinations that many racers are using. Do the rules makers (in IHRA's case, only one, Bill Bader himself) have any idea what the ultimate cost of these changes are? To quote one affected racer, Al Billes: "We're supposed to be out here having some fun, not draining our life savings away."
After spending the money to make the required changes, Billes has still not even come close to his previous performance level. In fact, he was the highest qualified blower car at the World Nationals -- in the Number 11 position. Previous national event winners and world champions, Fred Hahn (in Jim Oddy's car) and Troy Critchley (in Johnny Rocca's car) didn't even qualify!
For a little more background on this situation, check out this month's Backfire! page for lots of news on IHRA Pro Mod racers. Now back to the World Nationals. In the sixteen car field, only three blown cars qualified, with Billes highest in the #11 spot. All were gone after the first round (big surprise, eh?). In Al's case, a post-race media release blamed his loss on "bad racing luck"... tire shake. Gee, the rules changes couldn't have had anything to do that with that, could they? No, of course not (NOT!).
After all, changing gear ratios, adding 100 lbs. of ballast, deleting the billet heads and who knows what else, wouldn't have any appreciable affect on a racer's combination, would it? Apparently, not, according to IHRA. And just to add a little more accelerant to the inferno, I've got wonder how the nitrous cars seemed to find a tenth (of a second) or so in ET, en masse. Must have been all that good air at Norwalk, eh? And here we thought all that came out of that town was of the "hot" variety.
The nitrous racers couldn't have been sandbagging until they got the rules changes they wanted to handicap the blower guys. Or could they? After all the whining and bleeping they did on the subject, and saying there was no way they could even get close to the blown cars, how do you explain one of the loudest complainers, Quain Stott, running over 230 mph at the Northern Nationals two weeks ago? Or his ten or twelve consecutive 6.30 passes. Or they half a dozen other nitrous cars that have suddenly become much quicker in the last two weeks. What was I saying at the top of this piece about amazing coincidences?
Beep, beep, beep.... Hang on a moment, the blood pressure monitor's starting to act up again. 400 over 350... must be a software or hardware problem. Now where was I? Oh yeah, getting all bent out of shape and ready to torch a mental head gasket over the IHRA Pro Mod situation.... Before I go any further, I'd better have another pot of coffee and chill out.
Okay, we're back. Let's try to sum up this deal and move on to the next topic. Simply put, trying to even out two different combinations and make them equal in performance is an impossible task. While equalizing blown alky and nitrous injected cars is nowhere near the degree of difficulty in trying to combine blown alky and injected nitro cars in a class, the end result will always be the same: It just doesn't work.
So what's the solution? Hey, don't ask me, I'm still trying to figure out how to get NHRA to split the Federal-Mogul Dragster class. But I do know that constant tinkering and adjusting of the rules will help no one, except for the parts manufacturers. Stability of rules is a key component in keeping racers in the sport and bringing new entrants in. Constantly changing and fluctuating regulations does nothing but bring chaos and anger to the party.
After all, isn't this supposed to have something to do with fun? Or are we all expected to throw every bit of money we can beg, borrow or steal at it, then find out that it wasn't enough to keep up with the Jones's? Or the Bader's, or the Compton's, et al, of this world. End of subject for today; stay tuned as the situation could change again, even before this update hits the 'net.