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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Fire Protection and Cockpit Intrusion
(Letters to Dick Wells)

By Franklin Ratliff

Dick Wells is 25% of the Board of Directors of the NHRA.

The following e-mails relate to concepts I first publicly proposed during my interview with Bret Kepner, published in the October 1999 issue of Drag Racing USA, and which I've continued to promote in on-line forums such as Nitronic Research and Drag Racing Underground. FR

October 19th, 2001

Dear Mr. Wells,

As I pointed out in my September 5th letter (below), there is no good reason for drivers of fuel cars ever to be seriously burned again, even on tracks that don't have a safety crew the caliber of the NHRA Safety Safari.

To address cockpit intrusion problems in dragsters, I suggest double-frame construction for the cockpit portion of the frame. The exterior frame could use arched instead of flat frame members with the exterior frame mounted to the interior frame through chromemoly plate diaphragms to spread the load. The use of double-frame construction would also simplify the creation of fully enclosed driver capsules for Top Fuel cars since the space between the interior and exterior frames could be filled with insulation. I suggest making the transparent portion of the canopy as small as practical, perhaps using double-glazing with tempered Pyrex glass for the outside and quarter-inch polycarbonate for the inside.

To solve some of the driver egress problems associated with installing a fully enclosed driver capsule in a Funny Car, an opening could be left in the body. The capsule could be built to match the contour of the body so that the capsule actually serves as part of the body. Several months ago Brent Fanning of Udder Nonsense Racing pointed out to me that even in existing Funny Cars because the cockpit is relatively well sealed, ram air can be used to pressurize the cockpit and keep smoke out while the car is in motion.


Franklin Ratliff

September 5th, 2001

Dear Mr. Wells,

Below is why over two years ago I first proposed the concept of an X-15 style fireproof capsule that even in a fully engulfed car would keep the driver insulated from the fire inside a breathable atmosphere.

"...As near as I can tell he went up in flames in his funny car just before the finish line, steered toward the wall, crossed over to the other side, hit the wall, went airborne and then came to rest just before the turnout. The Sheriff's crew chief Scott Mason was down at that end just after the Sheriff's run and was the first on the scene. It took several minutes to get the body lifted and when they got in there, Keith's face shield was melted to his helmet. Scott pried one side up about two inches to try to get him some air. About that time, the safety crew showed up and tried to put out the fire. They had to cut the cage off so they could get Keith's helmet off..."

With regards to cockpit intrusion by another vehicle, there is a highly informative article on canopy and safety cell design in the September issue of POWERBOAT magazine. Unlimited hydro builders have, more than in any other motorsport, taken the lead in anticipating cockpit intrusion. With vehicles that can slice and dice a driver three different ways (propeller, rudder, AND skid fin) they have had some extra incentive.


Franklin Ratliff


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