in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of September 30, 1999
It's almost time to turn the page to another month on the calendar. So what's been happening over the last month? What's the buzz... the word... the "hot and tasty" stuff that's been happening in the wide, wild, world of drag racing?
September started with the usual big noise out of Indianapolis, the 98th (or something like that) annual "Big Go" at Indy, the US Nationals. This year's edition had the usual combination of sure bets and upsets. In its long history, the Nationals has always provided a surprise or three with racers coming seemingly out of nowhere to either win outright or become the major story of the event.
Who, among long-time fans, can forget "Big Daddy's" one-week wonder at the 1967 Nationals? And then the beard shaving on the starting line? Truly a legendary drag racing story. Then in the mid-80's, after several years of almost total inactivity, another comeback with help from Art Malone, to claim the 1984 and 1985 Top Fuel titles. How about the ultra-dramatic victory of Don Prudhomme over Jim Nicol in 1970, when Nicol's clutch explosion at the finish line blew the car in half. Amazingly, "Superman" escaped without any injury, but Prudhomme was so shaken by the incident that he was almost incoherent afterwards.
Gary Beck ? Remember how he came out of absolutely nowhere (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), the ink barely dry on his Top Fuel license, to win the 1972 title over the heavily-favoured Jerry "The King" Ruth in the final. And we very nearly had another overnight success story, as Calgary, Alberta's Gordie (Not 240.. yet) Bonin went all the way to the final round in Funny Car. And before someone points out the obvious; yes, the pro fields at Indy that year (and the next) were seriously depleted of top-name talent due to the competing event(s) put on by the Professional Racers Association at Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Over the years there have been, thankfully, few serious accidents or injuries at Indy, but that hasn't always been the case. 1969 saw the emergence of the "Beebe and Mulligan" Top Fuel team as the top car in the category. The US Nationals was to be their crowning achievement of the season, with a new all-time best for the sport of 6.43 during qualifying. Sadly, their dreams ended in the first round of eliminations, with a devastating engine explosion and subsequent fire that claimed the life of a rising star, John "The Zookeeper" Mulligan.
In the early 80's, tragedy returned to Indianapolis, with the death of motorcycle racer Ernie Reif, when his front wheel came off, and the death of a television finish-line cameraman, hit by an exploding supercharger. Then came the double trauma of the 1996 version. First Elmer Trett, the "godfather" of Fuel Bike racing, came off his ride after a 230 mph pass and then, a day later, Blaine Johnson, driving the "baddest hot rod on the planet" crashed and subsequently died from injuries received in a horrific crash after setting a new track record. Let's hope those are the last fatalities ever at the Nationals.
Yet another overnight success story grew from the aftermath of the tragic passing of Gary Ormsby in 1991. Pat Austin, licensed only weeks before the event, went to the final round, falling to Kenny Bernstein in heart-breaking fashion. Pedalling the still unfamiliar car on the burnout, he backfired the blower, coasted to a halt near the wall and dejectedly hopped over the guardwall to watch Bernstein single to victory. To rub salt in Pat's wounds, King Kenny immediately blazed the tires and coasted to an 8-second run; an eminently beatable number. If only....
The cinderella stories continued at this year's race, with Australia's young phenom, 20-year-old Andrew Cowin, going to the final round of Top Fuel. Two years ago, he and twin brother John were running their injected altered downunder... now here he was on live television, competing for the most prestigious event title in the world of drag racing. Living your dreams, indeed. As so often happens in the real world however, Andrew and his decidely underdog team lost to the superior performance of Cory Mac's MBNA car. Still, he made an entire country very proud of his efforts and became the story of the '99 Nationals.
A week later, and three thousand miles away, Europe's drag racing season came to a close with the FIA European Finals at England's Santa Pod Raceway. While there wasn't much drama surrounding the season championships, with Gordie Bonin (yes, he's still around... and going a lot faster than 240 now!), having clinched the Top Fuel title earlier. The Top Methanol (not Alcohol; political correctness rules, eh?) championship wasn't officially wrapped up until qualifying ended, with Finland's Jarmo Roivas claiming his first European championship.
Aside from Bonin's 4.99 qualifying time, the ONLY four second run in Europe this year, the big story was Finland's newest "hitter", Top Methanol Dragster racer, Eero Kilpelainen. Picture this: Finnish racer and crew, US-built (Bob Meyer) chassis and.... a CANADIAN crew chief (Bob Haffner of Mission, BC). United Nations, eh? This unorthodox combination set the Euro drag world on it's collective ear in qualifying with a 5.70 top qualifying spot at over 247 mph. Then, in the first round of eliminations, they backed up those numbers with an even better 5.69 at 248 mph. Both ends of that run were the quickest and fastest ever by an alcohol dragster outside North America. Big news indeed.
Talking to Haffner on his return to Canada, he intimated that those records may be only the "tip of the iceberg". (Sorry, no pun intended). With only three days to help Eero and an all-rookie crew sort out their combination, Bob feels that a few minor parts upgrades and some testing and fine-tuning next season will yield 5.50 et's and 250 mph speeds. Big stuff indeed and a scary prospect for all the other racers over there. Remember the old adage: "Speed costs... how fast do you want to go?" Well, it looks the ante has definitely been raised for the 2000 season.
PS: Don't spread it around, but viewing the FIA Top Methanol regulations reveals a lack of blower overdrive limits. Say what? No kidding; the latest update to their rules, according to the official FIA website, has no mention of any limit. Funny thing I've noticed too is that every screw-blown car in Europe runs a Whipplecharger. A mix of early and late-model ones too. On the other hand, when you consider that the "Whip" is manufactured by the AutoRotor folks in Sweden... and that the (FIA mandated) annual SFI inspection for a PSI (manufactured in Phoneix, Arizona by Norm Drazy) would be rather pricy. Still, it makes one wonder just how quick you could go with a PSI running at say... 125 over.... or 135.... or (you fill in the blank). Get my drift? Is your life insurance paid up? Then what's the problem? Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.
Next item on today's agenda is the continuing saga of the rumour that refuses to die. The one concerning whether the NHRA is or isn't for sale. For most of this year, it has been one of the hottest topics of discussion on the internet, in the pits and presumably, in the boardrooms of the major players in this soap opera. Adding just a little more combustible substance to the conflagration, here's the latest story to emerge, as seen in the Dallas Morning News earlier this week.Bruton Smith looks to buy NHRA
LAS VEGAS - Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith confirmed Sunday he has made an offer to purchase the NHRA. Smith said he has submitted a contract proposal to the NHRA but declined to provide any details. NHRA officials could not be reached for comment. Asked where the proposal stands, Smith said he's waiting for a reply. "They're a non-profit organization, and it's up to the present board," he said.
SMI, which owns Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, is fast becoming a major player in drag racing. The company owns drag racing facilities at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California, which holds an NHRA national event, and Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway, which stages the Winston Showdown all-star race.
SMI is building a new drag racing facility adjacent to its Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and that has received a new event for 2000. Smith also has stated his intention to build a drag strip at Texas Motor Speedway, even though the Texas Motorplex in Ennis has an exclusive agreement to stage NHRA events in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.
Smith wouldn't say what he would do with the NHRA if he acquired it, but he has said on previous occasions he believes the sport's format needs to be changed to better accommodate television. He has proposed building facilities with four lanes instead of two for continuous action.By Tony Fabrizio - The Dallas Morning News - September 27, 1999
And the response from Glendora to this latest news item is..........
This isn't the first time that someone has offered to purchase the association; Billy Meyer of Texas Motorplex fame made an offer in 1987, and when he was turned down, bought the IHRA. For one disastrous year. Despite the serious financial clout of Meyer and his father, founder of SMI (Success Motivation Institute), they're only minnows compared to the big shark himself, Bruton Smith. And Smith isn't the sort of fellow to take NO for an answer. He'll be back and back and back. If he's as serious as it appears, he'll try every possible way to take control of NHRA and then.....
Let's just leave this subject alone for now; I'd really hate to even attempt speculating on what the association would look like after a year or two of his stewardship. His desire to build four-lane dragstrips, for "continuous action for television", is just a hint of the radical changes he would make to the sport. To him, it would just be a commodity to be molded, shaped, packaged and sold to consumers for the highest profit. But like I said, I don't want to try looking into the future with Bruton running the show. For now.
Every day brings something new to the internet. Yesterday, through one of the newsgroups, I found a new Top Fuel site in, of all places, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Yes, just across the Rocky Mountains from my west coast base. It's been a while since I'd heard any news of David Fedorowich (Top Alcohol Dragster), but now he's back and in Top Fuel. Assuming Ron Hodgson's "GM Goodwrench" car, also from Calgary, is still around, that makes a total of THREE T/F's in Canada now. To anyone wondering why, in a country with a population of 33 million, we only have three fuel dragsters, here's the answers. Start with a 69 cent dollar (compared to the yankee greenback), long distances from national events, six months of winter (it seems that way most of the time) and lack of serious sponsorship opportunities.In Fedorowich's case, the sponsorship for his effort is coming from his own company, Dark Side Creations. Their product is... are you ready for this? "Latex fashion wear". Is the NHRA really ready for this one? Check out their very "interesting" website to see some of the latest designs in exotic clothing. There's no news yet on Fedorowich's racing plans for next season, but we'll certainly be hearing more from them over the winter. Keep up to date with their plans by visiting Dark Side Racing. This weekend the NHRA National Event tour rolls into Topeka's Heartland Park for the "Advance Auto Parts Nationals". Action is already underway with the Top Alcohol cars running today and tomorrow the Pro classes start qualifying. We'll have all the results in Top Fuel and Top Alcohol dragster posted on the Results Menu over the weekend. Also, there is television coverage of the event on the SpeedVision network. The schedule is as follows:
Please note that all times listed are Pacific Daylight Time
That just about covers all the news that's come our way so far this week. Tune in over the weekend to see what's happening at Topeka and the Budds Creek, Maryland "IHRA President's Cup Nationals", where Glen May will be trying to rebound from his lost weekend at Rockingham last week. And remember, for all the latest news from the world of drag racing, drop in regularly to Northern Thunder.