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in the world of drag racing

Black Bar

The latest update as of December 17, 1999

Well the news is out .... and whether it's good or bad will take some time to judge. Yesterday NHRA announced the immediate imposition of what may prove to be the most controversial rules change in the last 40 years for fuel racers. After earlier intimating a reduction in allowable nitro percentage to 85%, they've modified that stance somewhat and have now imposed a 90% maximum for next season. (Change to become effective immediately).

In addition, they've brought in a system of monetary fines and points reductions for oildowns. Plus, the possibility of additional fines, disqualification and suspensions for repeat and/or flagrant offenders. Causing an oildown in eliminations will also cost the offending racer lane choice in the next round. Whew.... sounds like they are really going to attempt to get serious about the problem. But at what cost?

Another procedural change announced is a 15-minute reduction in between-round time for the pro categories. Let's see now, what does all this add up to? Less time between rounds to fix/solve problems, less nitro percentage in the tank, loss of points and dollars for oildowns. For me at least, that is one tough equation to work out. And on the surface, it appears there are more questions to be asked than answers gained.

For instance, who's going to decide what constitutes an oildown? The official answer, for the moment, is "whenever the sweep trucks, jet driers, etc. have to be utilized" -- according to Graham Light (NHRA v-p). How will the nitro percentage be checked for compliance? How will "additives" in the fuel be detected? And the biggest question: How will the racers respond to these changes?

At this time, I'm not going to knock these changes. If they succeed as planned, then everyone will be the winner. The fans will see closer, cleaner racing, with far less downtime. The TV producers will have a better show to broadcast, especially on the live shows. The racers may have a more level playing field, with the current nuclear tune-ups being toned down enough to bring the leaders back closer to the pack, thus tightening competition.

However, there are so many factors that may work against these changes, that the chances are there for it to backfire on NHRA. For now, we'll just have to wait until things fire up at Pomona on February 3, 2000. In any event, it will be interesting to see how these changes affect the sport. The bottom line is that something, anything, had to be done . . . and NHRA has done it. They haven't ignored the problem, and anyone who claims this is strictly a reaction to all the explosions of the past few months is simply not paying attention.

As long as two years ago, Steve Gibbs, NHRA v-p of competition, circulated an open letter to the fuel racers, telling them in no uncertain terms that if they couldn't solve the (oildown) problem themselves, then NHRA would solve it for them. Now, virtually all of Steve's "suggestions" have become policy.

That's enough from me on the subject, for today anyway, so here's the official word on the subject, courtesy of NHRA:

Fuel classes get nitro, oildown regulations

The National Hot Rod Association announced, today, new rules changes designed to improve the quality of on-track racing at its 23 sanctioned national drag racing events and the Winston Showdown, said Tom Compton, president of the nation's largest motorsports governing body.

Specifically, NHRA will introduce a "spec" fuel for its professional Top Fuel and Funny Car classes that will establish a maximum allowable percentage of nitromethane. In addition, NHRA announced a penalty, consisting of both loss of points and fines, will be imposed upon race teams that oil down the track. It also was announced that the minimum time between elimination rounds will be shortened to 75 minutes, from its present 90-minute interval.

"This is the first step in a comprehensive solution to improve the quality of the show, reduce downtime between races and increase the reliability of these professional class engines, while assuring that NHRA Winston Drag Racing maintains its position as the fastest, most exciting motorsport in the world," said Compton. "By taking these initial measures, we are confident that we will enhance the experience for our fans both on and off the track."

The new "spec" fuel will consist of a nitromethane/methanol mixture not to exceed 90 percent nitromethane. In addition, Angus Chemical Corporation, a division of DOW Chemical, will be the exclusive supplier of the nitromethane mixture. Angus is the only domestic supplier of nitromethane and has committed to make ample supply of the fuel available, not to exceed today's market price, through the 2002 racing season.

Race teams that oildown the race track next year will have NHRA Winston Drag Racing points deducted, and will be assessed a fine. During qualifying rounds, the minimum penalty for an infraction is the loss of 5 (five) NHRA Winston Drag Racing points and a $500 fine, per occasion. Elimination round violations will result in a reduction of 10 (ten) NHRA Winston Drag Racing points and a $1,000 fine, per occasion. In addition, the violating party, should they win the round, will lose lane choice for the next round of racing.

Frequent or flagrant violation of the oildown rule may result in further action including, but not limited to, additional fines, disqualification and exclusion from NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series events. NHRA announced that both rule changes are effectively immediately.

Following hot on the heels of NHRA's rules changes, came their announcement of the "appointment" of VP as their "official" fuel supplier for the next three seasons. Coincidence? No, I don't think so either. While the release date for this announcement was somewhat untimely, it had to be done asap to squelch any rumours of who/how/what fuel supplies would be available/legal for 2000. The release specifies the use of VP's "spec" fuel for the nitro categories, PLUS the mandatory use of their products for the gasoline burning cars too.

While VP has agreed to maintain their current prices for the next two years, they've in effect increased the price of nitro by 10% overnight. Unless I'm told different, I understand that 90% nitro is now available for the same price as 100% previously was. Yes, I realize that the 10% methanol in the new fuel isn't free, but it's a heckuva lot cheaper than nitro.

This arrangement with VP has allowed NHRA to gain on two fronts, with one rule change. They've achieved (or at least they hope they have) a return to saner fuel racing and they've been able to sign a marketing agreement with VP at the same time. Presumably the deal includes a percentage of the gross sales, which could turn out to be a very tidy sum for NHRA, since only VP fuels can be used at NHRA national and divisional events from this day forward.

For all the details -- at least all that are being reported at this time -- read the following NHRA media release from yesterday.

VP Racing Fuels named Official Racing Fuel of NHRA

The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) announced VP Racing Fuels, long-time supplier of fuel to participating racers, as the official racing fuel of the NHRA.

With this designation, VP Racing Fuels will be the exclusive on-site gasoline supplier at all NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series national events and the Winston Showdown. VP Racing Fuels gasoline will be mandatory in the Pro Stock, Pro Stock Truck and Pro Stock Motorcycle categories at national events and Competition Eliminator categories at both national and NHRA Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series divisional events. The partnership is a three-year agreement beginning in 2000 and through the 2002 racing season.

"VP Racing Fuels was the natural choice for NHRA," said Graham Light, senior vice president of racing operations. "For more than 20 years, VP has demonstrated unsurpassed service and technical support to the racing community. With a majority share of the marketplace and the ability to provide a full range of fuel products, including nitromethane, at competitive prices, VP Racing Fuels was the choice to handle our unique needs.

"As the exclusive on-site gasoline supplier, VP Racing Fuels will provide a 'spec' fuel that will level the playing field for competitors where gasoline becomes a constant versus a variable," concluded Light. VP will provide on-site service and technical support at national events, as well as at testing and Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series venues.

"We are proud of our long history and relationship with the National Hot Rod Association," said Fred Morrison, president, and Steve Burns, vice president, of VP Racing Fuels. "Providing appropriate support onsite, while making available all forms of racing fuels at a competitive price, is the standard by which VP Racing Fuels does business and wants to be measured."

Last thought of the day: What happens to the injected nitro racers in "Top Alcohol" next season? What percentage will they be running? Unless I hear otherwise, I've got to assume that 100% nitro won't be available anywhere, at any price, except on the black market for now on. If the injected cars have to run with 10% less "pop" in their tanks, maybe, just maybe, the ever-widening performance gap between them and the blown alcohol cars can be closed, at least a little. This could turn out to be an unexpected, but hardly unintended, bonus for the currently beleagured blown brigade. So what's the answer, NHRA?

One more thought just occurred to me: If VP's "spec" fuel is the only fuel allowed next year, what happens to current stocks of nitro? Will they be able to pass fuel check with 10% methanol added? At this point I'm assuming that VP will be adding some sort of marker or indicator to their fuel, to prevent that from happening. And also to prevent any "adulteration" of the fuel. Maybe the racers who have some old nitro on hand will have to sell it to the Top Fuel Harley guys, or ship it to Europe or Australia, where no restrictions have been (as of the moment) placed on their fuel racers.

Time to go for now, but as always, for the latest news, views and wildly unsubstantiated rumours from the world of drag racing, stay tuned to this station.

Black Bar
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