By Roger Diez
I have not spent a lot of time talking about drag racing in this space, mostly because I have never had much personal involvement in that branch of motorsports. But I must commend the National Hot Rod Association for taking quick and decisive steps to improve safety in the wake of Scott Kalitta's fatal accident a couple of weeks ago.
In a move that has been controversial, to say the least, the sanctioning body has decreed that their Top Fuel and Funny Car classes will race for 1,000 feet rather than the traditional 1,320 foot quarter-mile. This will allow more runoff space to slow the cars in the event of a problem. The change, which is called an "interim" measure and starts this weekend at the Mopar Mile High Nationals, is just part of an NHRA safety initiative.
Also under investigation are ways to reduce engine failures, parachute mounting and fire-resistance, arresting systems for runaway race cars at the end of the track, and increasing braking efficiency when body blow-offs cause sudden reduction in downforce. A new, safer Funny Car chassis has already been implemented.
I salute the NHRA, which has been much quicker to respond to safety situations than NASCAR. The Stock Car sanctioning body dragged its heels for years on safety measures until the tragic death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt forced their hand. A lot of people, myself included, ragged on NASCAR about safety issues for years with little or no effect until the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Then everything changed. Just think, had they heeded the warnings earlier, we might still be delighting in cheering or booing The Intimidator on a Sunday afternoon.
One side effect of the new race-length rule in NHRA is the skew it will put in statistics. Possibly the only sport more obsessed with stats than drag racing is Major League Baseball. Just imagine what would happen to that sport if the size of the ball or the base path lengths were increased or reduced. Well, in drag racing, we're going to see a lot of new ET (elapsed time) records set, but no top speed records.
- Did you get as annoyed as I did last Saturday night, watching TNT's Coke Zero commercial-fest with occasional glimpses of Sprint Cup racing? I was nearly ready to start throwing things at the TV screen about a third of the way into the race.
That picture-in-picture (PIP) commercial thing is awful! True, you can still see the action on the track, but without the commentary you don't get the whole experience. It seemed as though they'd come out of one of those PIP things for one sponsor and 30 seconds later they'd be cueing up another one. I'm urging all race fans to write, call, or e-mail TNT (and FOX and ESPN lest they get the same idea), and express your displeasure in no uncertain terms.
Of course, when NASCAR started charging billion-dollar figures for the TV rights, we all knew that this sort of thing would be the natural outcome. But that doesn't mean we can't voice our displeasure with this ridiculous intrusion on the racing.
- It was my sad duty to attend a memorial service on Thursday for Bill Ramthun, patriarch of the racing Ramthun family. Bill passed away suddenly during the night on July 7.
Bill was crew chief for his sons Matt and Blake, who amassed a number of championships at Reno-Fernley Raceway over the years. I had the honor of driving a Bill Ramthun-Prepared Hobby Stock Camaro in a media race at Reno-Fernley just five years ago. His son Blake drove the same car to the division championship. I just tried to bring it home in one piece and not disgrace myself, because I didn't want to face Bill if I screwed up!
Bill lived to see grandson Shane uphold the family honor at Reno-Fernley as well. The Ramthun family has asked that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to the American Heart Association, 1281 Terminal Way in Reno, or to the National Kidney Foundation, 2550 East Desert Inn Road in Las Vegas.
Godspeed, Bill. You will be missed.