NHRA Decides to Shorten Runs For Safety’s Sake

When drag racing became more and more popular in the early 1950s and 60s, the National Hot Rod Association‘s home track was Pomona Raceway in California. The track was built as a quarter-mile and the cars’ speeds were only nearing 200 mph so the logistics worked. But that was then, and this is now. Today cars reach speeds in excess of 325 mph, and officials now fear that the track hasn’t changed enough to accommodate these high speeds.

This fact was brought into sharp relief recently when the life of Scott Kalitta, a Palmetto Funny Car driver, was brought to a catastrophic end when his car launched into the barrier at the end of a run last month in New Jersey, causing the car to explode with the driver still trapped inside. There were likely more factors involved in the crash than simply the lack of space and increase in speed, but the tragic event was a stark reminder that something needed to be done about the problem. The accident took place in Englishtown on a track that was built in 1965 – one of many tracks that, like Pomona Raceway, have run out of space to expand the runoff area at the end of the quarter-mile in case of emergencies such as these. Since the runoffs cannot be expanded, something else needs to be done to ensure that these tracks continue to remain relatively safe places to participate in motor sports. With this in mind, the NHRA has made the decision to shorten the races for Top Fuel and Funny Cars to just 1000 feet instead of the full 1 320-foot quarter-mile that has been the standard up until now. Both events see the fastest cars on the track and the most risks taken, and shortening the track will no doubt see a lot of cars slowing down in order to stay on the track.

Although the NHRA has said that this is only a temporary solution to the problem, a lot of people in the auto racing industry are up in arms about it. They feel that speed is the name of the game and a good driver will just suck it in and do their best. They also fear that the NHRA’s decision will become permanent. However, the decision made by the NHRA is clearly not about slowing the races down – it’s about the long-term safety of the drivers involved in these races. As long as there is insufficient space for a car hurtling down a run at 325 mph to slow down safely, the risk of more accidents like Scott Kalitta’s is just too great. Tracks must be altered, races must be shortened or technology must improve – we will no doubt see interesting developments in all three of these facets of racing in the near future.

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