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The latest update as of March 18, 2018

49th annual NHRA (Amalie Oils) Gatornationals

Barely two days before qualifying started at the Gatornationals, the 3rd of 24 races on the 2018 NHRA schedule, a rather sudden - but not really surprising - announcement came down about a new penalty for centerline and/or timing block infractions. There's been a continuing increase in such incidents over the past few years and the latest crash resulting from crossing the centerline (the John Force - Jonnie Lindberg crash at Phoenix last month) is presumed to have caused the NHRA to enact the rule change.

It applies to racers in all categories at national events and will result in increasing penalties - from 5 to 10 to 15 points - for subsequent infractions. No monetary penalties will be added. There was no mention whether it will be extended to regional or divisional events, but that can be expected if the number of centerline violations continue unabated.

In our opinion, this move is overdue as speeds continue to increase, racers push ever harder attempting to win, and if their competitive instincts aren't tempered somewhat, it will only be a matter of time until a racer is seriously injured or killed. Thankfully, a centerline crossing hasn't resulted in a fatality for a very long time, but that's down to luck as much as good engineering, and constantly improved safety regulations.

It only took until the first round of eliminations for the rule to kick in, as Steve Torrence had the dubious honour of being the first recipient of a five-point penalty. Sadly, the next infraction in the second round of Top Fuel involved Mike Salinas, and he not only received the points deduction, but ended up with a crashed race car as he not only crossed the centerline, but hit the wall. He did the right thing by getting off the throttle when he smoked the tires right off the line, but got too excited when he saw opponent Richie Crampton going up in smoke also, and got back on the throttle too hard and too soon, putting the car sideways, up on two wheels, across the line and into the opposite wall. No word yet on how badly damaged the car (and more importantly, the driver) fared.