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in the world of drag racing

Black Bar

The latest update as of October 13, 1999

Well he says, with fingers, knees and toes crossed, the "Blue Screen of Death" episode is over... for now and we're back to "normal".... Yeah, as if. As in, "if there really is such a thing as normal around here". As soon as I uploaded the last update I'm sure I could hear laughter in the distance... all the way from Langley. How about it LP? Troubles like I've had, never, ever, happen in Mac-land, do they? Anyways, now that the computer is up and running properly again, time to let loose with more What's New(s).

One more note first, though; My "Bookmark" file blew up last night, for what must be the umpteenth time this year. Total frustration turned into just mild anger when I remembered that I'd saved the file on a disk.... five months ago. So, there's a "few" gaps in the list and if anyone has sent me any new links in the last month or two... please send them again. Search engines and my personal memory bank can only fill in so many blanks. Now back to the regularly scheduled programming....

Steve Harker So who is this guy and what did he do to rate some "valuable" space on the "What's New" page. His name is Steve Harker and he lives in Brisbane, Australia and races his Top Alcohol Funny Car downunder. In fact, two years ago he set Australian drag racing on its ear with an unreal 254 mph pass; fastest in the world outside of the USA and one of the fastest ever by any alky funny car, anywhere. This past season he became the quickest car in Australia -- under the current rules structure -- with a 5.72 ET. Several months ago, the word started getting around that he had bought an American funny car, new BAE engine and was planning to get his feet wet in NHRA drag racing in the latter stages of the 1999 season.

His first appearance, two weeks ago at Richmond, Virginia's Division One points meet was a fairly successful debut. He qualified # 3, behind only Frank Manzo and Tony Bartone, with a very respectable 5.99 ET. An easy first round victory left him matched with Frank Manzo in the semi-finals, and, despite a consistent 6.06, he fell to Manzo's 5.90. Then it was on to Topeka, Kansas and Heartland Park's "Advance Auto Parts Nationals".

Steve qualified near the middle of the 16-car field, with a fine 5.89 at 242 mph, earning him a first-round date with Marc White. Unfortunately, Harker's 5.98 at 243 mph wasn't even close to catching White's 5.787. As it turned out, White went on to the event victory, just like Manzo had done against Harker a week earlier. Next stop, Memphis Motorsports Park for the "Autozone Nationals".

As I'll detail later in this report, last weekend's Memphis event was one that was a major ordeal for everyone concerned. Thursday was a complete washout, Friday was pretty much a waste of time and Saturday wasn't perfect. Despite the inclement weather, and only two chances to make the field, Steve qualified eighth (in the nine-car field) with a "rolled-the-start" 6.27 at 249 mph. Obviously a five-second pass, although it didn't show up on the timers.

With Saturday's first round of eliminations postponed until Sunday, Steve faced his Topeka nemesis, Marc White. Then the fun began.... White broke on the burnout and Harker cruised into the second round with a much improved (on paper) 5.92 at 242. That second round match with Chuck Cheeseman was, as the Aussies would say, an absolute "pearler". Harker's 5.83 at 248 defeated Cheeseman's quicker 5.82. The difference was, of course, a holeshot, to the tune of a .421 light to Chuck's much later .532 reaction.

Due to the odd sized field, Harker enjoyed a bye in the semi-finals and after a strong launch (to test the clutch), shut off to a 13-second time. Yes, in only his second NHRA national event, and third appearance on American soil, Steve Harker was in the final, against.... Frank Manzo. Oh, oh. Frank had beaten him at Richmond two weeks earlier, is the two-time defending "world" champion, etc. etc. Not at all fazed by the situation, Harker came up with his career best ET, a 5.717 at 249.90 mph, only to lose to Manzo's Low ET and Top Speed performance of 5.69 at 253 mph. Close, in fact, very close, but not quite an Oscar-winning effort for Harker.

Still, an effort that Steve and his wife Janelle, can be very proud of, and that surely all Australian drag racing fans will be overjoyed with. In just three short weeks, Steve Harker has definitely established himself in the upper echelons of NHRA racing. With the three events remaining on the national tour, you can be sure that his opponents won't be wondering who he is or whether he can run with the pack... he's done it and there's certainly more left in the combination yet. He's still got Houston and Dallas, two of the best tracks anywhere in the world left to run on this year. 5.60's ?? No worries, mate, they'll be on the Texas scoreboards later this month.

Stay tuned to "What's New" for more updates on this amazing "overnight" success story. By the way, another Aussie did rather well at Memphis, at least in qualifying, with ex-Brisbanite David Grubnic snaring the number one spot in Top Fuel with Low ET of the meet at 4.57. David's luck ran out in the first round, however, with an up-in-smoke pass and a loss. The Indy sensation, Andrew Cowin, sat out this event, but should be back for the two Texas races and the season finale at Pomona in November.

Memphis 'Improvements' Memphis musings....   For most of the weekend, the Autozone Nationals were in serious jeapoardy of being postponed. As mentioned earlier, Thursday was a complete washout, and Friday's schedule went off the rails very early, with no professional qualifying sessions (of the two scheduled) run. The alcohol cars had one chance Friday and one chance Saturday to qualify. Then four rounds of eliminations scheduled for Sunday. The Pro cars got in two of three scheduled sessions on Saturday, in between further rain delays, and many of the teams had no real baseline to tune from for Sunday.

Aside from the weather problems that plauged this year's version, the future of this event must be called into question. Click on the thumbnail at the top of the previous paragraph for a close look at the "improvements" made at Memphis Motorsports Park for this race. Yeah, that's it. Some slapped together temporary tower(?) that is supposedly the first phase of a three-story tower behind the starting line, similar to what many tracks now have. Who's kidding who here? I've seen better looking scaffolding on construction sites for god's sakes. If this is the best that a tired old facility like Memphis can produce for a national event, then this year's national event may well be the last one held there.

Seriously, with venues like Joliet's Route 66 Raceway, Bruton Smith's Las Vegas Motor Speedway and rebuilt Bristol Raceway on line now... and more of the next generation of "super tracks" on the way, can the future of places like Memphis and Seattle be very secure? The big shake-out may not come next year, but within two or three years, I can almost guarantee that tracks like those won't be hosting NHRA national events.

Final note from Memphis: On Sunday evening, there was a serious accident in the Federal-Mogul Dragster pits, involving Gene Snow's car and crew. The only report I've seen on it is reproduced below and if any further updates become available, I'll post them as soon as possible. In the meantime, I sincerely hope that the injuries suffered by the crew are not serious and that the cause of the accident can be discovered, to prevent it from happening again. This isn't the first time that an A/Fuel car has hydrauliced, with disastrous results, but let's hope that something can be done, soon, to prevent it happening again.

DATE: Monday, October 11, 1999, 04:25 AM
HEADLINE: Federal-Mogul Dragster Crewmen Injured in Engine Explosion

Two crewmen were reported injured when the engine in Gene Snow's Federal-Mogul Dragster exploded tonight at the AutoZone Nationals at Memphis Motorsports Park. The incident occurred in their pit area following the team's second round loss.

According to NHRA officials, the crew was servicing the car when the engine "hydrauliced" resulting in major damage to the engine components. Witnesses reported that large pieces of the cylinder head and engine block were missing following the explosion, which was described as sounding "like a cannon shot" and was heard clearly inside the tower, almost a quarter-mile away.

The crewmen were transported to a local hospital via ambulance for evaluation and treatment. Neither the identities of the crewmen nor the exact nature of their injuries were not immediately available.

Valve Cover Restraints NHRA Rules Revision   Just announced last Friday is the latest change in Top Fuel and Funny Car rules. Effective on October 21... yes, just eight days from now is the mandatory installation of Valve Cover Restraints. As yet, there is no applicable SFI specification, and I'm not sure who is manufacturing them, but NHRA isn't waiting until next season, they want them on NOW, mister! The cynic in me smells lawyers and lawsuits as the reason behind this very sudden revision. I'm thinking back to the incident at Richmond, Virginia earlier this year and wondering if NHRA has been hit with a lawsuit resulting from the serious head injuries received by a fan at the Pennzoil Nationals.

It's impossible for me to disagree with a rules change that will make the sport safer, but this sudden move to require uncertified equipment on very short notice is, in my mind at least, a very "knee-jerk"-style reaction on NHRA's part. It's a sad fact of life that in the litigation-loony United States, people can't accept that auto racing is a dangerous sport and that no absolute guarantee of safety for the racers, officials, and spectators can be made. No matter how stringent the rules become. Too many people aren't willing to accept responsibility for their own actions and must always look to blame someone for every misfortune that befalls them. Negligence is another matter entirely, but this is surely not the case in this situation.

At the rate things are going, how much longer will it be before all blown cars, fuel and alcohol, are forced to have a sheet of armour completely enclosing their engines? Don't laugh, it can't be that far away with the current rate of engine and drivetrain carnage. For a reminder of just how ugly it's getting out there, scroll down the page and take another look at the remains of Gary Scelzi's TFX's last weekend in Topeka. For a closer look at the valve cover restraints, click on the "thumbnail" at the top of this update. Here's the official word from NHRA on the restraints.

Valve-cover restraints will be mandatory

Effective October 21, commencing with the start of the O'Reilly Fall Nationals, all engines in the NHRA Funny Car and Top Fuel classes must be equipped with a valve-cover restraint capable of restraining components such as head studs, spark plugs, and pushrods in the event of engine failure (see official rule revision below).

NHRA has petitioned the SFI Foundation, Inc. to develop a minimum specification for these valve cover restraints. NHRA anticipates this specification will be in place, and that all such restraints will be required to meet the specification effective January 1, 2000.

Questions regarding product availability should be directed to Mr. Jeff Giovino of the NHRA Technical Department in Glendora, California at (626) 914-4761 Extension 286.

NHRA also is asking all teams to verify that all pressurized bottles on the race vehicle are stamped with a DOT-1800-pound rating. Inspectors have seen a few onboard fire extinguishing systems in tech that had non-rated containers. Check yours now and avoid problems in tech inspection.

Add to 1999 NHRA Rulebook
Pages 149 Funny Car & 156 Top Fuel
(Effective 10/21/99)
Engine: Add "Engine must be equipped with a valve cover restraint, which fits over valve covers and cylinder heads. Valve cover restraint must be capable of restraining such components as head studs, spark plugs and pushrods in the event of engine failure."

Well, is that enough updates for one session? In fact, I'd better not push my luck and just stop here, upload it and keep hoping that the computer problems are over for a while. I'll try to be back on-line later this week with some thoughts on marketing and take a look at why so many major sponsors seem to be deserting NHRA team and event sponsorships at the end of this season. I'd start listing them now, but the total seems to be rising daily, and would be incomplete before I'd finished listing all of them.

Also, this coming weekend is the final IHRA national event of their season, the "Mopar Parts Finals" at Red River Raceway in Shreveport, Louisiana. We'll be keeping a close eye on our local hero, Glen May, as he tries to break through for his first win on the IHRA tour at this race. And, as always, more news from the wild, wide, weird world of drag racing, as it happens.

Black Bar
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