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NHRA To Crack Down On A Sticky Problem In 2011

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 20 2011

Smoking tires are OK in the NHRA. Leaking oil will not be in 2011. (Photo courtesy of the Full Throttle NHRA Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

NHRA officials will ramp-up their crackdown on oildowns during the 2011 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season, including implementation of “strict penalties” for all classes competing at national events.

In an effort to improve the quality of show for fans, and its cable television partner, the sanctioning body has outlined a two-pronged program designed to minimize excessive down-time resulting from oildowns and/or track preparation.

First, NHRA has invested in additional trackside clean-up equipment this offseason. In addition, following a string of lengthy oildowns in qualifying and eliminations during the latter part of the Countdown to the Championship last season, NHRA has opted to reinstate and enforce a series of oildown penalties featuring monetary fines and championship point deductions.

“We recognize that oildowns are part of racing,” said Graham Light, senior vice president of racing operations, NHRA.  “But we polled our fans and they indicated that, though a part of racing, excessive down-time on the track has a negative impact on their experience.  We believe the added equipment, coupled with across-the-board oildown penalties, will lead to less oildowns by all competitors, shorter down-time on the track and a better experience for our racers and fans at NHRA national events.”

That said, the first violation in 2011 for competitors in each of the four professional Full Throttle Series categories will result in a $1,000 fine. If the violation occurs during qualifying, it will result in a loss of five points and the loss of elapsed time and speed for the run.  Times will be voided for qualifying position, qualifying performance points, session run-order and national records.

During eliminations, a violation will result in a $1,000 fine plus a loss of 10 points and the loss of elapsed time and speed for the run.  If the oildown violation occurs on a winning run, the driver will advance but will lose lane-choice and run-order selection for the next round, and the performance will not be eligible for national record consideration.

Second violations at the same event will result in a $2,000 fine plus a loss of 10 points in qualifying and 20 points in eliminations.

Competitors in Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car and Pro Mod will be assessed a $500 fine and five points for a violation during qualifying, and 10 points for violations during eliminations. The same rules regarding voided times, position, run-order and national records apply to these categories.  A second violation at the same event will result in a $1,000 fine and loss of 10 points during qualifying and 20 points during eliminations.

Finally, competitors in the remaining categories of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series participating at national events will receive a fine of $250, plus loss of five points for qualifying violations and 10 points for eliminations violations.  A second violation at the same event for these classes will result in a $500 fine and loss of 10 points in qualifying and 20 points in eliminations.

“Our hope and desire is to neither collect fines nor levy any penalties on the racing community,” Light said.  “We hope that by announcing these penalties, the teams will work more diligently at oil containment.”

More than two oildowns at an event by a single team will result in an NHRA review of the team’s season performance and further action may be taken as determined by NHRA.  Penalties will be in effect for all 2011 events, including the six-race Countdown to the Championship postseason.

All teams will receive one oildown credit at the start of the 2011 NHRA national event season. However, no further credits will be awarded in-season.

NHRA also has increased its track preparation and oildown clean-up capabilities by adding equipment to the NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA, including an additional drag tractor and more jet dryers available for each Full Throttle Series event.

With the additional equipment, NHRA plans to significantly decrease track preparation time by utilizing both tractors simultaneously.  Also, with the added equipment and use of more jets, NHRA will be able to minimize clean-up time following oildowns.

Veteran Pro Stock driver/team-owner Johnny Gray and sponsor TBC Retail Group are joining Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car lineup for the 2011 season. Gray’s Service Central Racing Dodge Charger will give DSR its fourth Funny Car entry in anticipation of another season-long battle with John Force Racing.

Famed crew chief Lee Beard, who has earned more than 50 wins in Top Fuel and Funny Car during a

Johnny Gray

30-plus-year career, will handle Gray’s tuning duties.

Gray, who made his NHRA debut in Pro Stock in 1993, previously competed in Funny Car from 1999-2004 and for one race in 2006. He returned to Pro Stock in 2008 after sitting out the 2007 season. Gray finished 10th in the 2010 Pro Stock standings. Driving a Pontiac GXP, Gray went winless last season while posting one runnerup finish and a 14-20 won/loss record that included a 1-5 mark in the Countdown.

“It’s been great driving Pro Stock, but it was time to move up into Funny Car for added exposure, and we decided Don Schumacher Racing was the way to go,” said Gray, a 57-year-old resident of Artesia, N.M. “I had driven a Funny Car for Don several years ago (six races in 2004) and knew his was the right organization for our program. Lee Beard and I get along real well and always have. This looks like it was meant to be.”

Gray is the second driver to be added to the DSR lineup this offseason. Schumacher announced in November that Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey, the 2009 Auto Club Road to the Future Rookie of the Year, would replace Cory McClenathan in the Prestone/FRAM Dragster for the 2011 season.

Returning to DSR’s Funny Car lineup will be Matt Hagan, runnerup to 15-time champion John Force by 42 points in 2010, as well as veterans Jack Beckman and Ron Capps. Beckman finished fourth in points while Capps was seventh. Led by Hagan’s three victories, the teammates combined for five wins in 2010.

Professional drag racing’s biggest preseason testing event has been scheduled for Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter, Fla., early next month.

The inaugural Pro Winter Warm-up has been booked for Friday and Saturday nights, Feb. 4-5, at the quarter-mile, all-concrete championship drag strip formerly known as Moroso Motorsports Park.

NHRA is preparing to kick off its 60th anniversary season with the 51st annual Kragen O’Reilly Auto

John Force will be one of the drivers/owners testing in Florida this week. (Photo courtesy of John Force Racing)

Parts NHRA Winternationals Feb. 24-27 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. The race is the first of 22 events on the 2011 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule. The event at PBIR will be the only opportunity for drag racing fans in South Florida to see the sport’s biggest names.

“A number of professional drag racing teams have used our facility to test in the past few years but this year we’ve decided to step-it-up,” said Jason Rittenberry, president of PBIR. “Usually the sessions are closed to the general public, but we’ve changed that this year. Seeing these nitro cars under the lights is an incredible experience for race fans, and I’m happy the teams have agreed to invite the public to get a real taste of professional drag racing. We’ve got a great lineup of teams that will be participating.”

NHRA teams committed to the session include John Force Racing, Don Schumacher Racing, Kenny Bernstein Racing, Kalitta Racing, R2B2, Bob Tasca Racing, Morgan Lucas Racing, Vandergriff Motorsports, Terry McMillen and Cruz Pedregon Racing.

The two-night event will feature side-by-side runs and a shootout between the two quickest Top Fuel dragsters and the two quickest Funny Cars. Gates will open at 4 p.m. both Friday and Saturday with runs scheduled at 5 and 7 p.m., EST.

Tickets can be purchased at the gate; no advance tickets will be offered. Adult single-day tickets are $25; children 6-12 years-old will be admitted for $10 with children 5-and-under free. A special two-day adult ticket can be purchased for $40. Fans bringing a ticket stub from the Nitro Jam event on Jan. 28 or 29 will receive $5 off a single-day ticket.

PBIR boasts three completely refurbished tracks, including the all-concrete drag strip, a high-performance road course, a seventh-tenths mile karting track and new karting center. The 2-mile road course features some of the fastest and most challenging corners and straightaways in North America.

PBIR currently is sanctioned by the International Hot Rod Association and is pending certification by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), governing body for many major racing events. For more information on PBIR, visit the venue’s website at www.RacePBIR.com.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 20 2011
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