Fan Dies; Nitro Finals Postponed
By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
Chandler, Ariz. – Death again showed its ugly head Sunday when a woman attending the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway was killed by debris from a horrible crash involving NHRA Top Fuel driver Antron Brown.
The woman was struck by a tire and transported to Good Samaritan Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
A statement issued by the NHRA read in part:
“The tire became detached from Antron Brown’s dragster following an incident during the first round of eliminations. Brown was not injured.
NHRA is investigating the incident. The entire NHRA community is deeply saddened by today’s incident and sends its thoughts and prayers to the woman’s family and friends.”
Brown’s car appeared to drop a cylinder soon after leaving the starting line in a first-round elimination match against Troy Buff, and immediately turned sideways. The left-rear tire came off and catapulted over a retaining wall outside the dragstrip.
Brown’s car then tipped onto its right side and slammed into a retaining wall while sliding down the track.
As a precaution, a crew member drove Brown to Chandler Regional Hospital for further observation. He was examined and release, complaining only of minor soreness.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in a Top Fuel car where I couldn’t drive it,” Brown said. “The car started pitching at that point, upside down. Things were going crazy and I was hoping I didn’t get into Troy. The next thing I knew, I hit the wall.
“There was a burst of flame at my head and back, and I saw spots. The next thing I know somebody was trying to pull me out of the race car. It was a crazy ride. Thanks to the (NHRA) Safety Safari team.”
When racing resumed about two hours later, a delay that included one for rain stoppage, it eventually led to 14-time Funny Car champion John Force gaining a spot in a second straight finals. Force won last week’s season opener at Pomona, Calif., ending a 20-month winless stretch.
But Force will have to wait until Monday to see if he can continue his torrid start because NHRA officials threw the red flag following the Top Fuel and Funny Car semifinals, when it was deemed track temperatures were too cold to allow for safe driving.
The two finales begin at 10 a.m. Arizona time.
Pro Stock drivers only made it through the first round, but NHRA officials decided to postpone the final three rounds until the Gatornationals scheduled March 11-14 in Gainesville, Fla.
Final eliminations began 90 minutes late due to rain, which also disrupted qualifying during the first two days.
Inclement weather also caused several delays in sportsman qualifying and eliminations, and those drivers will return Friday to complete their eliminations during a divisional race scheduled the same weekend at Firebird.
Force, who beat teammate Robert Hight in the semifinals, faces Jack Beckman in the finals.
Cory McClenathan and Doug Kalitta, two drivers with 31 career wins but no championship titles, square off in the Top Fuel final.
Force, the No. 1 qualifier and a 14-time champion with an NHRA-record 127 career wins, reached the finale by beating Cruz Pedregon, Jim Head and Hight.
Beckman, the No. 7 qualifier, beat Bob Tasca III in the first round, Matt Hagan in the quarterfinals and Tony Pedregon in the semifinals.
“Well, it’d be really nice to win,” Force said. “But I don’t especially like beating a team car (Hight). His car never moved on the starting line, must have been a malfunction because (crew chief) Jimmy Prock has got that car flying.”
McClenathan beat Steve Torrence and Kalitta ousted Morgan Lucas in the semifinals.
– Mark Armijo is the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.comOne Comment