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NHRA Implements New Safety Rules

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 16 2010

Tim Wilkerson continues his battle to win the Western Swing this weekend at Infineon Raceway. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Reacting to a pair of tragic accidents in its Sportsman ranks, the National Hot Rod Association has issued safety updates relating to rear and front brakes, and an additional tethering device for parachutes covering a variety of its classes.

NHRA announced Thursday that rear carbon fiber brake rotors and pads will become mandatory equipment in Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car effective July 21, two days before the opening round of qualifications for the 31st annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. The event in Morrison, Colo., near Denver, is Round 3 of the three-race Western Swing.

In addition, front carbon fiber brakes will become mandatory for Funny Car and Top Alcohol Funny Car by Aug. 11, one day before the start of qualifying for the 29th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway. NHRA noted in its official announcement the “vast majority of vehicles” in these classes already use the listed equipment.

As an additional safety enhancement, NHRA is working with manufacturers on a secondary tethering device for parachutes in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car. This initiative is in addition to an enhanced specification for parachute mounting for the same four classes introduced earlier this year.

A radio frequency-activated shutoff device – which shuts off the fuel supply, cuts ignition and deploys the parachutes if the driver has not done so after passing the finish line – will be mandatory beginning in 2011 for Top Alcohol classes. The device has been mandatory in nitro Top Fuel and Funny Car since earlier this year. Top Alcohol drivers may install the receiving device on their vehicles and use it immediately at all national events remaining on the 2010 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and NHRA Lucas Oil Series schedules.

The safety enhancements follow on-track accidents that killed Top Alcohol Funny Car driver Neal Parker last month and Top Alcohol Dragster driver Mark Niver last Sunday. Niver, a 60-year-old resident of Phoenix, Ariz., was killed when his dragster crashed in the shutdown area during Round 1 of the Western Swing, the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash., near Seattle.

Parker, 58, of Millville N.J., died on June 11, one day after sustaining injuries in an accident while qualifying his Top Alcohol Funny Car for the United Association NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. Similarly to Niver, Parker crashed at a high-rate of speed in the shutdown area. NHRA’s investigations continue into those accidents.

The latest announcements follow a series of safety enhancements for Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car implemented this year. These include  a burst-panel activated safety shutoff system, which releases parachutes automatically when the manifold burst panel breaks; use of a cable around the main element of the rear wing  to automatically deploy the chutes if the wing breaks; improved oil catch-can systems; use of the Eject helmet removal system and fireproof tubing around brake lines.

The sport suffered another tragedy in the pro ranks in June 2008 when Scott Kalitta, a two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, was killed in a high-speed crash in the shutdown area at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park while driving a Funny Car. That accident prompted NHRA competition officials to break with tradition by shortening the quarter-mile distance to 1,000-feet in nitro Top Fuel and Funny Car.

NHRA has been overseeing a series of tests in the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks designed to slow the nitro-powered cars in a possible bid to return to quarter-mile racing. Concepts recently tested were a 75-gallon-per-minute (gpm) fuel pump, a 413 cubic-inch engine combination and a restrictor plate located on the inlet side of the supercharger.

Meanwhile, the annual summertime Western Swing resumes Friday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., site of the 23rd annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the professional defending event champions.

Wilkerson, Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) exited Pacific Raceways as the only pro drivers eligible to complete a sweep of the 2010 Western Swing. McClenathan, driver of the FRAM Dragster, now has 496 round-wins. With a victory this weekend Cory Mac would not only keep alive his hopes of becoming the first driver to sweep the Western Swing twice, he also would become the ninth driver to collect his milestone 500th round-win. McClenathan swept the Western Swing in 1997.

Anderson, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP, was a perfect 4-0 on the Christmas Tree last weekend – including a hole-shot win over reigning world champion Mike Edwards in the semis – en route to his second consecutive victory at Pacific Raceways. Anderson, whose sweep of the Western Swing in 2004 is the only such effort recorded by a Pro Stock driver, also is bidding to become the first competitor to win the Western Swing twice.

Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang, has advanced to three consecutive finals and won the last two. Wilkerson is bidding to join 14-time world champion John Force as the only Funny Car drivers to have swept the Western Swing.

Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m. Friday and 11:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. Final eliminations are set for 11 a.m. Sunday. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8:15 a.m. Friday. Eliminations begin at 8:15 a.m. Saturday and continue Sunday.

ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise “NHRA Race Day,” a 30-minute preview show, at 1 p.m. (EDT) Sunday. Also Sunday, ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 6 p.m. (EDT).

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 16 2010
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