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Testing Of DSR’s Top Fuel Canopy Is Under Way

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 2 2012

Tony Schumacher took passes with new canopy in place during testing in Palm Beach. (Photo courtesy of Don Schumacher Racing)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The Top Fuel-car canopy being developed by Don Schumacher Racing will be at this weekend’s Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., but it will not be on the DSR cars. That’s unfortunate, driver Tony Schumacher said Wednesday.

“I want (it) to be in that car right away,” Schumacher said.

The canopy, designed to protect drivers in Top Fuel, was on the DSR cars during testing last month in Palm Beach, Fla.

But because it has not cleared  the NHRA Component Acceptance Process, its debut will have to wait.

“We have to go through the proper channels with NHRA to get approval for the canopy, and NHRA wants to take a close look at it so we’ll take it to Pomona where officials, Safety Safari and other drivers and owners can get a close look at it,” team owner Don Schumacher said.

Still, DSR officials said, the canopy will be brought to Pomona so that other teams and drivers can get good looks at it.

The official process which virtually all components new to the series must go through, said Glen Gray, the NHRA’s vice president of technical operations said, involves four steps.

The first step is the submission of a letter of intent, which explains the new component. Step two is the submission of detailed drawings and a concept design package. Step three is the submission of a prototype. Step four is submission of the finished component.

“It’s a simple process,” Gray said. “We try to keep it as logical as possible.”

Gray also said that if pertinent, the Safety Safari can be brought in. In the case of the DSR canopy, the Safety Safari would want to make sure that things like driver extrication have been considered.

Asked where in the four step process the DSR canopy currently resides, Gray said somewhere between steps one and two.

The canopy is clear and made of high-tech composite materials. It surrounds the cockpit and is designed to keep foreign objects away from the drivers’ heads.

“The whole point of that thing is parts and pieces have come into our car,” Tony Schumacher said. “All the drivers, whether it’s a small clip or a blower belt or a car crashing next to you, or in my case I hit twobirds, both with the right front wing. When you leave the start line, you see a bird at the finish line fly across, you’re in an open cockpit, you’re asking for trouble.

“Hit the front wing. We were towing back and bird feathers were still flying down. At 300 miles an hour,

Tony Schumacher wants more protection. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

if you catch something, you’re going to get hurt. We’ve seen open-wheel drivers catch the front springs in their head and get hurt.”

The device, designed and built by Aerodyne Composites in Indianapolis, weights about 25 pounds.

Schumacher took over a dozen passes with the canopy in place at Palm Beach. His best run with the canopy in place was 3.751 seconds at 324.28 mph.

Critics reportedly were concerned that the canopy would give cars using it an aero advantage. Tony Schumacher said the intent of the device is safety and not performance related. It will eventually be available to all who want to use it, he said.

“This is meant to keep other cars that are crashing out of your cockpit, the ignitions, the magnetos,” Schumacher said during a teleconference on Wednesday. “When Kenny (Bernstein) crashed against me, his car flipped sideways, his magnetos were bouncing towards me. I smoked the tires, but I was still going 200 miles an hour. You catch a mag in the head, game over.  (Gary) Scelzi, when he crashed, his nose came around, it was about to come into my cockpit.”

Drivers have died from flying debris. In 2004, Top Fueler Darrell Russell died during a run at Gateway International Raceway when a tire blew, debris hit the engine and more debris struck the driver in the back of the head.

Then there was the IndyCar wreck last fall in Las Vegas which took the life of Dan Wheldon.

“Would Wheldon have been safer with it? I would bet by far, yes,” Tony Schumacher said. “But it’s a bet. We all know that we can make these cars as safe as we want. The only way to keep them completely safe is not get in them because they’re going 330 miles an hour. There’s a reason we put on a fire suit and sit in a car with a roll cage and seven seat belts around us. We get it. It’s a fact.”

Questions have surrounded driver visibility with the canopy in place. Schumacher said he had few problems with that in Palm Beach.

Visibility, he said, “is amazing. Way better than I could ever have imagined. The only difficult part of driving it at all is when you’re staging the car, you can’t see the front wings. The window is moved forward a little bit. Funny Cars can’t see it either. You change and adapt to it. You roll forward till the light comes on and you stop. Once you open the throttle, you can see fantastic.

“Last year we tried it. The windshield was so distorted that as soon as you closed it, I would get seasick. Trees are moving, everything is happening. These guys at Aerodyne reconstructed it. It’s crystal clear. It did not fog up. I got a little concerned. We’ll put a battery on it, a computer battery to blow wind up on the windshield. It has a positive pressure design so it keeps air inside, keeps fire from pushing forward.”

Gray said he was not sure when the Component Acceptance Process would be completed on the canopy, but that it will not be ready by the race in Phoenix in two weeks.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 2 2012
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • linda schmitz says:

    Honestly as anal as NHRA has gotten, I’m not so sure it matters what team brought it to them. They do have safety measures and they are looking it over–they didn’t say no. I’m hoping like the rest of the Schusisters that it will be approved ASAP. They would have to be completely blind to not see the safety behind it, and DSR followed every rule in the book while making it. I think they take extra time when DSR brings something new to them because they are so much more on the cutting edge than any other team. It’s just a waiting game now…

  • linda schmitz says:

    NHRA is going to dog it…they want the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
    for it. It aint about safety dude!

  • Fred Boberg says:

    Hi. My first time leaving a comment here. I was wondering if this canopy is anything like what they use in hydroplane racing? I think theirs is almost the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet. Something like this has been needed for a long time. Thanks for your time.