SHUT DOWN AREAS

Recently came across something that I found very interesting.

As many of you may or may not know, NHRA founder Wally Parks had two sons; Richard and David. Richard has somehow inherited many of his father’s notes and writings and been attempting to put them together in a somewhat chronological order. I don’t believe I ever met Richard face to face, but he has included me sending his writings.

Two things stand out from these. The first is that they are very long and descriptive. More to the point; and with all due respect; most would probably not bother reading through them. The second though is that Wally apparently kept very good notes or journals; whatever you want to call them; of almost each and everything which happened in his life. I was very impressed with that. I’ve always felt if life is worth living, it’s worth documenting.

One of the things I found interesting in those writings was something surprising which didn’t transpire until 2008.

In 2008, Scott Kalitta lost his life driving his Funny Car at the Englishtown national event. Concerned with the increasing speeds the nitro cars were attaining, that incident eventually prompted NHRA officials to shorten the traditional quarter-mile to 1,000’ for the nitro classes. What’s interesting in Parks’ writing is that very same subject was discussed way back in 1984.

At the 1984 Grandnationals outside of Montreal, Shirley Muldowney suffered a crash which crushed her hands, pelvis and legs. Taken directly from Parks’ writings: “The current speeds and Shirley Muldowney’s accident prompted a discussion on track lengths with some favoring a fifth-mile, eighth-mile and various other distances. This was in 1984… Parks was adamant on reducing drag strip length to 1000 feet; but faced opposition from some Division Directors.”  

One of those around during that time was Steve Gibbs who was the Competition Director. Gibbs recounted that time but wasn’t exactly sure why the issue of 1,000’ was shot down except that it may have also not been well-received by some track owners.

The concern obviously is shut-down area. Most tracks were built at a time when speeds were no where near what they are today. And due to real estate constraints, most can’t be made any longer. What was interesting to me was that in 2008, I was fortunate enough to visit zMax Dragway during it’s building phase. This was shortly after the Scott Kalitta incident. One thing I noticed was that at the end of the track, the property dropped off fairly far which would have precluded them building a longer shut down area. But the one thing I did notice was the placement of the tower and suite building.

If you’ve never been to zMax, it’s quite an impressive sight, but the tower is placed some 1,500’ or so from the street. Had they moved the tower 500’ or so closer to the street, it could have added that much more shut down area. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, and of course I’m sure they had their reasoning.

Here in the northeast, we have two quarter-mile race tracks with short shut down areas. One, Numidia Dragway, has since been lengthened because property was available. But the second, Island Dragway in New Jersey, is bordered by a road and train tracks making it impossible to lengthen. I haven’t run Island Dragway in a long time but I remember when racing our dragster there and at probably 170 mph back then, if you didn’t use the parachute to aid in stopping, you’d go through brake pads fairly quick.

Again, prior to lengthening, Numidia Dragway had about the same shut down area as Island but you didn’t go through brake pads. The reason? Numidia’s shut down area went uphill by about 50’.

So, we obviously can’t lengthen race tracks, but what would it take to grade the shut down areas uphill? No special concrete or asphalt, just some work with excavating equipment… I think anyway.

Just some food for thought.