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Mar 6, 2006

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With apologies to Martin Luther King Jr., I too have a dream…

I was once considered by a certain vice president of NHRA to be a serious enemy to organized, sanctioned drag racing. Why? Because I asked questions about NHRA’s treatment of their sportsman racers.

In the more than twenty years since I asked those questions in a national column, I believe the sportsman situation has actually worsened.

I have a dream that someday NHRA Sportsman will all receive fair and just treatment.

First, I have no idea why national events are now split, especially those considering premiere events. Within a few weeks, the Winternationals at Pomona will be run sans Super Stock. Why? I’m told there are space and time problems.

First, it wasn’t EVER part of my dream that Professional teams should have multiple semi-trucks, motorhomes and mobile sponsor and VIP suites that puts cramped pit space at a premium.

I have a dream that NHRA Sportsman, especially those considered “class” racers, be part of each and every national event. And, if they need to be deleted, be done so in such a way that they don’t disrupt events where their heritage means so very much.

For example, Pomona is the season opener and arguably the biggest event on the west coast. Gainesville is considered the east coast opener. Englishtown is one of the biggest events in the northeast, and Kent is the ONLY national event in Division VI. These and others should never be considered for eliminator deletions. They are golden jewels in the crowns of history or their divisions.

My suggestion to fix the problem? Since there is already in place a points XXX situation for national event participation, my immediate thought would be to have lower ceiling cutoffs for the heads-up Super categories. After all, Comp, Super Stock and Stock entry numbers are dropping, so they should never be much of a problem.

I have a dream. One wherein NHRA Sportsman don’t feel they need to arrive at a 2-1/2 day points race on Wednesday just to get a decent parking spot. I’d like to see all those points races set up so Thursday is the very earliest anybody can get in. And Thursday could be an open day, where the short timers (60’ and 330’) could be in place for testing – no full runs allowed. For those events run Saturday nights, maybe that testing could be backed up to Wednesday afternoon and evening. And, if tracks wanted to feature an all-run bracket to skim a little more from the competitors, they couldn’t start it until after 6pm.

Since time constraints seem to be a problem at nearly all of the points races, I suggesting stopping across-the-starting-line burnouts for the Super classes. Where space is available, backing the water boxes up might help this problem but (especially) SC cars carry big enough tires that long burnouts and backups is rarely a necessity.

And by the way, what happened to those hand-slap “rules” that suggested an MPH ceiling on the Super classes. Why in hell does a 10.90 car need to exceed 150mph anyway. Yes, I know the reasons the racers state but every one are all anti reality. It has always been an advantage to run more speed in the heads-up classes but now everyone runs the big speeds. For those reading this that just tune out the Super or “90” classes, the current set-up is not just to build a car to run the index. Instead, they stack tremendous horsepower into the cars to move them quickly early in each run, then stutter the engines for a preset amount of time before hitting full power again for the remainder. While being the largest in entry numbers, the Super categories continue to be the least understood by race fans and the media.

Currently, the 9.90 guys are nearing 170mph and the 8.90 racers are surpassing 180mph with regularity. What is the need?

And each time I hear of a downtrack incident involving a Super category car on that “re-launch” adds more gravity to this lack of reality.

I know that it is unrealistic of me to wish for the outlawing of delay, stutter and other electronics timers in the Sportsman categories. Manufacturers have done their jobs by building components that at one time gave racers an edge, and by becoming sanction sponsors. Certainly, this industry that started with transmission brakes, has made a major dent over the last twenty years. I still have a great many friends that race in the Super categories. Before I alienate every one of them, I want you all to know that I am one of the very few media types that understand the extreme toughness of winning in these eliminators. There are so many more ways to lose every time a pair of drivers head for the starting line.

I don’t have all the answers and would never suggest that I do. But my dream still includes easy-to-understand pairings where drivers firewall throttle pedals, side-step-clutches, wildly row through a few shifts and beat the other to the finish stripe.

I come from an era when Top Eliminator pit the two best cars of that day in a bragging rights run-off. That evolved to Top Fuel, Top gas, Jr. Fuel, Street, Stock and other eliminators that broke down the multiple entries. I attended many events where we arrived, qualified, ran classes, won/lost, ran eliminators, won/lost, and went home, all in a single-day. What a concept. Yes, we flat-towed or used tiny trailers behind sedans and pickups, and seemed to find tackle-sized toolboxes adequate. Am I suggesting returning to those days? No, but most who lived them would agree they were sure more fun.

I believe in the changes that have come along to increase driver and fan safety. I know the need for rules and indexes and handicaps and electronics and data recorders. But my dreams encompass more.

I dream of Pomona lengthened to add necessary shutdown area. Sometimes that dream morphs into a Pomona with cables and arresting hooks to make certain the cars stop without damage. I dream of oval-track style “soft” walls instead of irrepressible concrete to line our quarter-mile venues.

Most of all, I dream of medium and small sized community dragstrips that are financially viable so that they can continue.

Flyin' Phil

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