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More Top Fuelers Involved In NHRA Cover Up

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 13 2013

Tony Schumacher finished out the 2012 season using the Top Fuel canopy. He will be joined by others this season.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

A growing number of NHRA Top Fuel drivers will be blasting down the 1,000-foot distance this season with a sunroof overhead.

What’s next…Sirius Satellite Radio and cup-holders?

Actually, the cockpit canopy introduced by seven-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher of Don Schumacher Racing last season and approved by the NHRA Technical Department in mid-August looms as the next breakthrough safety innovation in drag racing’s premier class.

Drivers ranging from reigning world champion Antron Brown of DSR to rookie Brittany Force of John Force Racing tested with the canopy during the offseason. Both plan to debut “under glass” during the season-opening 53rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries. The four-day event beginning Thursday at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway is the first of an expanded 24-race schedule in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

And Brown – who secured his first championship at Pomona last November without the lid – says the canopy on his Matco Tools dragster is here to stay.

“It’s on there, locked, sealed, and delivered,” Brown said during a recent teleconference. “My race car that I’m driving has the canopy on it and my backup car has the canopy on it. After driving with it down the racetrack several times, when you look at what you used to race, you’re like, ‘I don’t want to go back there.’ You go from a 3/16th-inch piece of Plexiglas between you and 330 miles an hour, now you go to a fully-enclosed cockpit that’s

Antron Brown will put a lid on it this year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

got a ballistic windshield that’s bulletproof. Then you have all the struts to support and brace your cockpit better where it gives you a lot more support and makes your area stronger where things can’t even come to you. We’re definitely happy we have that on our race car now.”

Brown, who won six national events last year en route to a seven-point advantage over Schumacher in the final Countdown to the Championship standings, said the switch to the canopy largely has been seamless.

“The thing about it was, it deadens all your senses, like your hearing,” said Brown, the first African-American to win a major North American motorsports championship. “Before, a lot of people think you’re in a Top Fuel car, you hear the roar from the stands, but the only thing you hear is the whine of the motor. In the cockpit, it actually deadens the noise around you now. You don’t have no light come in over the top of your head, so it’s dark and you can visually see going out that front windshield, where it actually makes it look like you’re looking through a little magnifying glass. You can see finer details than you used to.

“The only other thing about it is that the windshield doesn’t go all the way back on the sides, so the peripheral vision that you’re used to seeing on the side, you don’t see that any more. But it does do some different stuff when you’re backing up. My guys had to slow me down because I couldn’t tell how fast I was backing up in testing because I couldn’t see the sidewalls like I used to. You gauge your speed out of your peripheral. That was the biggest thing. Everything else was the same, identical. It was really easy to jump in it and go after it.”

Brown said the canopy – which he said basically covers a 14-inch opening – actually has intensified his “feel” for the race car. “You don’t hear the loud thunder of the car,” Brown said. “You still hear the high whining pitch of the blower, you can hear the motor revving-up and doing everything it always does. You can actually feel things in your seat a lot more. When I felt the tires shaking in testing, I caught that quick. You feel everything because everything else is deadened around you. It brings your other senses back into play now.”

NHRA Technical Department officials approved the cockpit canopy for use starting with last summer’s NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. The canopy is manufactured and distributed by Aerodine Composites Group of Indianapolis and is available for use by all Top Fuel teams. However, the equipment remains an optional component.

In making the approval announcement, Glen Gray, NHRA’s vice president of technical operations, noted the product includes a fresh air system, fire bottle, and kick-out panels.

One of the initial concerns about the canopy, which was developed by Schumacher crew chief Mike Green, was the aerodynamic advantage it might afford. Schumacher won two national events last year in his U.S. Army dragster– four fewer wins than Brown and two fewer than teammate Spencer Massey, who also ran without the canopy in 2012. Brown, Schumacher and Massey – who won the Winternationals last February _ finished 1-2-3 in the last year’s final Countdown standings and all will compete with the lid this season.

“I’ve only made a test pass with the canopy, so I’m anxious to get more experience in it,” said Massey, driver of the Battery Extender Powered by Schumacher dragster. “My teammates Antron (Brown) and Tony (Schumacher) have both said it’s a lot quieter and they have a better feel for what the car is doing. So that’s going to be a learning curve, but with the canopy I know I’ll be in one of the safest machines in all of motorsports and there’s no better feeling than that.”

Brown said the only disadvantage is the added weight of the carbon and Kevlar mixed weave lid. “The aero package is all the same,” Brown said. “The only thing that you gain by putting the canopy on now is about 20 to 25 pounds of weight.

“I think the other technical issue is, the windshield glass is very, very thick. Everything else is pretty much like standardized, mandatory. We can’t make anything different because we don’t own it anymore. Aerodyne Composites owns it, where everybody orders it. When it comes out, everything is identical from car-to-car. Brittany (Force) is running one also. It’s identical to what’s on my car.”

Brittany Force is making the switch from her A/Fuel Dragster to a Top Fueler this season after an extensive testing program in 2012. John Force, the 15-time Funny Car world champion, is taking his team into uncharted waters in Top Fuel but is confident the middle of his three racing daughters will be safe.

“This Top Fuel thing, with our Boss 500 engine, we have so much to prove but so much to learn,” John Force said. “She’s been training for a year in that Top Fuel car. In testing with the brand-new car, I’d like to thank Don Schumacher Racing for engineering that canopy on these cars in Top Fuel for protection. My daughter, with that canopy on the car, ran 3.796-seconds, well over 322 (324.26) miles an hour _ she was the third-quickest (in testing) at West Palm Beach. So I’m excited going into new territory. I’m really excited for her.”

Brittany’s Castrol Edge dragster will be tuned by Dean “Guido” Antonelli, who was crew chief on her father’s Ford Mustang Funny Car last season. Antonelli will be assisted by Eric Lane, who was Jimmy Prock’s assistant on 2009 Funny Car world champion Robert Hight’s Mustang in 2012.

“I know I have an awesome team behind me,” Brittany said. “I know we’re only going to make changes to the car, speed it up, and it’s only going to get faster. I’m looking forward to it all.

“The canopy, I was worried at first. I was more worried about being claustrophobic in the car. Once I made a few passes using the canopy, just for safety reasons, having that around you, it feels more comfortable. I think it would be hard to go back without the canopy. We’ll be running it this whole season.”

Brittany added that her car did require a new seat-pouring to accommodate the canopy. “I am a little claustrophobic, depending on the situation,” Brittany said. “In that car, it’s already so tight with the gear you’re wearing, the helmet, all that extra padding, the seat that’s formed right for your body, it’s already so tight in there. It was nice having that open cockpit.

“When they told me they were putting that (canopy) on, I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ I was a little worried about it. I did lose a little of my side vision. I talked to some of the drivers out there. Tony Schumacher told me, it’s good not having that side vision, because when you have that vision, you end up driving towards that car. So it’s good I don’t have as much side vision as I used to have.”


2012 EVENT WINNERS: Spencer Massey, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock


THURSDAY, Feb. 14 _ Lucas Oil Series qualifying; Mello Yello Series qualifying at 2 p.m.

FRIDAY, Feb. 15 _ Lucas Oil Series eliminations; Mello Yello Series qualifying at 2 p.m.

SATURDAY, Feb. 16 _ Lucas Oil Series eliminations; Mello Yello Series qualifying at noon and 2 p.m.

SUNDAY, Feb. 17 _ Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.; Mello Yello Series eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION: Saturday, Feb. 16, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (EST). Sunday, Feb. 17, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 8 p.m. (EST).


MOST VICTORIES: Bob Glidden, PS – 7; John Force, FC – 6; Greg Anderson, PS- 5; Warren Johnson, PS – 5; “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, TF- 5; Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, TF/FC – 5; Larry Dixon, TF- 4

TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel _ 3.730-seconds by Shawn Langdon, Nov. ’12; 328.62 mph by Spencer Massey, Feb., ’12

Funny Car _ 4.007-seconds by Ron Capps, Nov. ’12; 319.75 mph by Jack Beckman, Nov. ’12

Pro Stock _ 6.495-seconds by Jason Line, Nov. ’12; 213.13 mph by Line, Nov. ’12

NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.

Funny Car _ 3.986-seconds by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

Pro Stock _ 6.477-seconds by Jason Line, Oct. ’11, Reading, Pa.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 13 2013
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Anthony says:

    Ha.. you got me with the title. Well played. And yes, canopies seem to be a good move, especially after Antron’s wreck. I did want to ask someone (and I miss NHRA today with the Questions they would answer… maybe it’s on ESPN3?) Anyhow, I heard someone say if the driver went unconscious, they would not be able to open it (obviously.) Is there a safety release that the Safety Safari can unlatch? And what about if the canopy is damaged or crushed? Could it also trap the driver? I am sure you’ve got access to get the answer if it has not already been discussed. Thanks!