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in the world of drag racing

Black Bar

The latest update as of December 1, 1998


Word to the Wise Dept: If you're ever in a casino playing the "one-armed bandits" and you see the three symbols shown above come up, don't stand there waiting for the payoff . . . duck, run or evaporate. (For the visually challenged -- those are bombs, not black cherries !)

They say that "bad luck comes in threes" and this might just be the week to see that happen. First up, I get knocked over by food poisoning; no big deal, a few days in sick bay and I'll be back to normal (whatever that is). Then, last night I receive the news about our Ford truck. (The duallie that pulls our 42-foot Chaparral). For the past year it's had a slight "ticking" noise emanating from the engine. Expert opinions ranged from a cracked piston skirt to a burnt exhaust valve seat. It wasn't too loud and was somewhat intermittment so we just did our best to ignore it. Last night, however, we found what out it really was . . . A BOMB!

I'm still waiting for all the details from crew chief Tom, as his first report was short and to the point. "You know that ticking noise I've been talking about . . . well, it went BOOM tonight so I'm waiting for a ride home. I got paid yesterday so I've got some money, but I'll need a few bucks from you to finish rebuilding it."

At the start of this update I mentioned bad things coming in threes, so what's the third? Well, for quite a while now (amazing how we never seem to have the time to work on the stuff we drive everyday, isn't it?) my Dodge Ramcharger automatic transmission has been slipping out of drive when it's cold. No problem, just bring the revs up a bit and it locks up again . . . sooner or later. Lately though the "no gear" situation has become more frequent and with the way this week is going, is almost bound to fail before the week is out.

From the "better late than never" dept: A media release from the NHRA Division Six office yesterday announced the formation of a new eliminator for the 1999 season. Top Comp is to be added to the roster and will finally offer a place to race for many of the cars presently "orphaned" by the NHRA system. My comments will follow the full text of the release.

Division Six will add new Top Comp bracket

A new and quick bracket class will be contested at all six Division Six Federal-Mogul Series events in 1999. In addition, the bracket, called Top Comp, will be the premier eliminator at the five Canadian National Open events next year.

"I believe that we are launching the class that may change the face of Sportsman drag racing in NHRA," said Division 6 Director Chris Blair. "While this class will be exclusive to the Northwest Division in 1999, I feel it is only a matter of time before we see it contested at NHRA events nationwide.

" The track operators (that will host Federal-Mogul Series events) in this division firmly believe that Top Comp will take off immediately. For the six Federal-Mogul events they are guaranteeing an impressive payoff as well as a very rewarding year-end points fund.

Top Comp will be open to any car capable of an elapsed time between 6.30 and 7.99 seconds. The 32 quickest cars will be paired from a ladder chart, race off an open five-tenths tree and are allowed electronics. Contestants' dial-ins can vary two-tenths from their qualifying elapsed time. Advanced E.T. safety rules will be enforced.

The class was created during a meeting between the six Northwest Division Federal-Mogul Series track operators, NHRA Technical officials, NHRA Director of Field Marketing Melvyn Record, Blair and Federal-Mogul's Kent Chalfant. In addition to establishing rules and safety requirements, the parties also committed to a long-term strategic plan for the development and promotion of Top Comp.

For more information, call Chris Blair at (360) 698-3828 or e-mail at Chris Blair

Well, what can I say? It's DEFINITELY a large step in the right direction. It will surely bring more than a few cars out of "mothballs", cars that currently don't really have any "place to race". For a number of cars that are currently running mid- to low-8's, the incentive to step up and join the "faster guys" will be there too. (Too bad they didn't have this class two or three years ago when we were still running the 392) But, there are a few unanswered questions in the release and I hope to have those answers later today.

The questions concern the cars caught in the "grey area" running between 7.50 and 7.99 seconds. Until now, those cars have been subject to E.T. bracket rules - regarding frames, rear-ends, sfaety equipment and licenses. Now it appears they will be governed by the much stricter, and -- you guessed it -- more expensive "Advanced E.T." regulations. A quick scan of the 1998 NHRA Rule Book shows several major areas that would have to be upgraded for those "in-between" cars. All the examples I will use apply to supercharged cars.

Frames:  Supercharged front-engine dragsters will have to meet SFI spec 2.4; rear-engine dragsters 2.3H; funny cars 10.1C; bodied cars 25.1C. All these specs are obviously much stricter than the 7.50-9.99 certification they currently have to meet. Plus, the inspection must be done yearly (not every 3 years) at an annual cost of $100 U.S.

Rear-end:  Full-floating or live axle assembly required. OUCH! Big cost item if you've got to change to one. Have you priced out a floater or live-axle lately? NOT cheap! Of course, this applies to blown cars only. Seriously though, anyone running in the sevens (or quicker) should really have a floater rear-end anyway.

Safety Equipment:  Front-engine supercharged dragsters will have to carry a 5-lb. fire bottle; funny cars a total of 20-lbs. of fire extinguishant. Plus, all safety harnesses will have to have fireproof covers. Front-engine (dragster or funny car) drivers will have to upgrade to an SFI 3.2A/20 firesuit (from a /15 currently) and have SFI 3.3 neck collars. Lots of dollars to make all those changes, especially the firesuit.

License:  Presumably upgraded licenses will be required. I say presumably, because the rule book specifies a Class 4 license for 7.50 to 9.99 drivers and a Class 3 for 6.50 to 7.49. (I'm not even going to ask what happens when a Class 3 licensed driver runs between 6.30 and 6.49).

As you can see there are quite a few questions for drivers/owners of cars that currently run between 7.50 and 7.99. It would have been much simpler to simply make the class 6.30 to 7.49, but that would have excluded quite a few cars, especially in the first year(s). But to have two sets of rules for cars quicker than and slower than 7.50 will be one major headache for all concerned. And if the Advanced E.T. rules apply to cars running between 7.50 and 7.99, then many of those cars won't be showing up to run Top Comp. A quick session with the calculator shows anywhere from $5 - $10,000 in changes required, assuming that their current chassis will pass the SFI specs. If not . . . they may as well build a brand-new car or find some place else to race.

STOP THE PRESSES DEPT:  I've just received an answer from Division Director Chris Blair about the 7.50 - 7.99 cars. They WILL run under the regular E.T. bracket rules, while the 6.30 - 7.49 cars will run on the Advanced E.T. regulations. The only people with any problem will be those running quicker than 6.50 with a Class 3 license. They'll have to upgrade to a Class 2 (Top Alcohol) license. Anyone running quicker than 6.30 will have a major problem though . . . like "get out of here - you're too darn fast".

Chris also promised to clarify the payouts and other details in the next issue of "Sixth Sense" (the division newsletter) which should be out next week. We'll bring you that info as soon as we get it. He also mentioned that there is a long-term commitment to the Top Comp category. Even if the numbers (of competitors) aren't great next year, the class will continue at least through 2001. So, it's time to get off the fence and step up to the plate guys. Get busy and have those cars ready for the season opener at Boise's Firebird Raceway on April 16th.

Last thoughts on the subject, for the moment. Five years ago, out on the West Coast of Australia at Perth's Ravenswood Raceway, Top Comp was inagurated. It gave the faster Comp cars a place to run without giving away huge handicap starts to slower cars and provided close, exciting racing. It proved to be a huge success, with many new cars built specifically for the class. Today, it is still the most popular bracket at Ravenswood and its future looks very bright.

Two years ago, on the East Coast at Brisbane's Willowbank Raceway a similar Top Comp bracket was created, again with instant success. Just like at Ravenswood, it has gone on to become the most popular category at the track and has become the feature bracket at most National Opens.

The only major difference to the NHRA version of Top Comp is in the form of induction . . . Superchargers are MANDATORY! Yeah, a dream come true for a true "blower snob" like myself and a definite attraction for the spectators. That sort of restriction would probably not work here though, as there are many naturally aspirated cars - most running nitrous oxide - that, like the blown cars - don't currently have a category to race in.

Unless they like running in Super Pro and giving away two- and three-second handicaps. The big difference between North America and Australia in this area is that while there are virtually no nitrous cars downunder, blown cars (of any configuration) have always been crowd magnets. It's just not quite the same here, as many very fast non-blown cars exist and put on quite an entertaining show in their own right. (Different strokes for different folks, I guess).

Last item for the day - so far. It didn't take NHRA very long to react to Rick Henkelman's total domination of the "Top Alcohol" class at the recent Winston Finals. (In case you missed it, he ran 5.38 in the final to absolutely bury Rick Santos' excellent 5.48) Yesterday it was announced that for 1999, the A/Fuel cars will have to run at 4.8 lbs. per cubic inch (up from 4.6). This is in addition to the already mandated 470 cubic inch limit and the 250 lb. ballast limit for the class. Will it bring parity to the class, finally ?

I'd like to think so, but I have my doubts. My theory is that like their bigger, badder brothers in Top Fuel, the extra weight will just load the motor harder, allow them to burn more fuel and consequently, generate more horsepower. The more significant change may be the cubic inch limit, down from the currently unlimited size. What effect the shorter stroke will have on their combinations remains to be seen, but I'm sure we haven't seen the last change for the "Top Alcohol" class.

There's lots more I could talk about today: Lack of televised drag racing for Canada in 1999, some very interesting statistics about NHRA attendance and television audiences for 1998 and the "year in review" (aka: what a long strange trip it's been). But those topics will just have to wait a few days (or maybe only a few hours). As usual, stay tuned for all the late-breaking news and developments in the world of drag racing.

Black Bar
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