NHRA 2009 Season News and Key Changes
Complied with Additions & Comments by FlA & Co.
02.05.09: The NHRA and ESPN have agreed to a five-year contract extension
that will keep the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series on the air through 2016. The NHRA's developmental Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series will also continue to air on ESPN2. Terms of the deal have ESPN2 and ESPN2HD showing the qualifying and finals for all 24 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events. This year, 18 of those events will be telecast during prime time. ESPN2 has carried the series since 2001. Terms of the deal also have the NHRA's second-tier Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series airing on ESPN2 and ESP2HD. ESPN is a unit of Burbank-based The Walt Disney Co. The National Hot Rod Association is based in Glendora, California. It was founded by Wally Parks in 1951. In the motorsports world, NHRA is second to NASCAR in terms of attendance.
- - NOTE: NHRA pays ESPN to broadcast its races. Only major National sport I know that does this. That stated, the coverage is excellent and superior to NASCAR. fla
02.07.09 ESPN Video: Paul Page & Mike Dunn's 09 NHRA Preview
NHRA 2009 Season Changes
NHRA Rules Committee | Amended Rules | Top Fuel & Funny Car Testing | Oildown Penalties Suspended(1)
The NHRA Championship Drag Racing series is now called the Full Throttle Series after the energy drink's parent, Coca-Cola, switched its drag racing sponsorship from its POWERade drink.(2)
Top Fuel and Funny Car categories will continue to race at 1,000 feet, instead of 1,320.(3)
There will continue to be no awarding of bonus points if nitro drivers set race elapsed-time records. Bonus points were suspended after NHRA changed from 1,320 feet to 1,000 feet nitro racing following the June 21, 2008 death of funny car driver and two-time NHRA Top Fuel World champion Scott Kalitta.(4)
Both Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars must have a specific NHRA approved electronic controlled safety shutoff system that senses manifold burst panel failure and simultaneously activates the fuel shutoff, shuts off ignition, and deploys the parachutes. This change was mandated for Funny Cars for the last two 2008 events being the Las Vegas NHRA Nationals and the NHRA Finals, Pomona. It is mandated for Top Fuel starting with the first race of the 2009 season being the Winternationals, Pomona. The purpose of the new regulation is to stop runaway nitro cars in the event the driver is knocked out, injured, or otherwise cannot manually perform these functions on a timely basis. - fla (5)
Christmas Tree Race Start Procedure: The tree will be activated, after both cars are properly staged (all pre-stage and stage lights are on), in a random variable between .80 to 1.30 seconds for Top Fuel and Funny Car, .80 to 1.10 seconds for Pro Stock, and no change for Pro Stock Motorcycles. Previously it was activated at a constant .93 seconds. NHRA will evaluate any further changes needed during the season. The change was made so drivers could no longer anticipate the timing lights in an attempt to cut a low starting reaction time. The new rule will significantly level the field as to reaction times. All other tree and driver starting procedures remain the same as last season. - fla(6)
Increase winner purses more than $1.3 million.(7)
NHRA plans on cutting Full Throttle Series event ticket prices for tracks they own in Pomona, Gainesville, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and other participating tracks. This is mostly a marketing gimmick, as NHRA is only offering discount tickets for the general admission "event filler crowd". - fla (8)
Like many major motor sports, NHRA is experiencing the worst loss of sponsors financial backing in twenty years. In the off-season, there were major changes among and within racing teams. The positive is that the 2009 season will be interesting and unpredictable. For example, in the nitro divisions, championship winners cannot be reasonably predicted. - fla02.05.09: Road is rough for NHRA in hard economic times
, plus 2009 Season Preview. Note: There are some article inaccuracies but its still a reasonable general overview. - fla 02.04.09: NHRA Battles Shaping Up Across Division Lines.
~ Previews for the NHRA Full Throttle Series Four Divisions
The severe economic downturn and loss of sponsors has been brutal for the start of the 2009 NHRA Top Fuel season. The Funny Car teams and drivers are in much better shape. Heres a quick TF run-down I threw together.
Top 16 NHRA Top Fuel Drivers, 2008 Final Points
01. Tony Schumacher
02. Larry Dixon
03. Cory McClenathan
04. Hillary Will (N)(X)
05. Antron Brown
06. Rod Fuller (N)(X)
07. Brandon Bernstein
08. Doug Herbert (N)
09. Doug Kalitta (O)
10. Dave Grubnic (N)
11. J.R. Todd (N)
12. Morgan Lucas
13. Bob Vandergriff Jr. (N)
14. Troy Buff (O)
15. Steve Torrence (N)
16. Clay Millican
(N)ot driving in 2009 due to loss of sponsorship
(O)nly has sponsorship for part of 2009 season
(X) On a lighter note, the cat is out of the bag. Hillary and Rod are having an off-track relationship which I heard about late last season. The love birds wanted to keep their situation under wraps due to worries about how their respective team owners might react. Currently, neither has a ride for 09 so its not an issue. - fla
NHRA issues 10% pay cut to all employees
In an emergency company meeting on Thursday, Feb. 12, at the NHRA Museum on the Pomona County Fairgrounds, NHRA president Tom Compton announced in a brief statement that the entire workforce of the NHRA --including himself and the board of directors -- would be taking at least a 10% cut in pay. Unconfirmed information indicates that those in management have been reported to taken a larger than 10% pay cut. This is a sad day for the National Hot Rod Association and its members, and yet another indicator of just how bad the economy is and how it is affecting all of motor sports. <> Some of NHRAs corporate members deserve an immediate 100% pay cut. - fla
FlAs Comments on Selected 09 Rules Changes
: As all major motorsports, NHRAs 2009 strategy is to try and maintain their core fan base and not experience a major financial loss in an extremely difficult market. NHRA's likelihood of success is poor. Some of the rules changes that are needed, or need to be repealed, are being deferred to 2010 when there is a clearer picture of the economy and the depth of the recession. However, NHRA is still not doing enough to properly manage drivers safety, and these matters cannot
be delayed. NHRA reminds me of where NASCAR was on ignoring driver, car and track safety issues before four drivers were killed at the track in nine months culminating with the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. on February 18, 2001. I was at the 2001 Daytona 500 and saw Dale die. I walked away from attending or having anything to do with NASCAR racing until the 2003 Daytona 500. Every veteran NHRA member knows the sad fact that if John Force had been killed in his horrific 2007 accident at Dallas, NHRA would be a much safer sport today. If we have a third straight year where a NHRA Championship Series driver is killed or critically injured due to safety issues, I dont care how much NHRA cuts ticket prices, many veteran fans, including myself, will walk away from the sport. Theres a major difference between losing a driver because its a high risk sport, and losing a driver because the sanctioning organization continues to ignore serious safety issues.
UPDATE NOTE: NHRA has already amended the 2009 rules three times with the lastest being March 5, 20091. 1,000 Feet Nitro Racing:
After Scott Kalitta's untimely June 21, 2008 death, the NHRA mandated 1,000 feet, verses 1,320 feet (quarter-mile), racing for Top Fuel and Funny Car. This was probably the most controversial decision since the NHRA banned the use of nitromethane from April 1957 until the 1964 Season, except for the 1963 Winternationals. Informationally, the only reason the NHRA lifted the ban for the 1963 Winternationals was to increase fans attendance and interest for the '63 season. The owner of the legendary Lions Drag Strip lifted the tracks nitro ban in January 1962 and it was hurting NHRA's business.
The reason the NHRA's 1,000 ft. nitro racing mandated is so controversial, is that the length of the track and shutdown area had nothing to do with the horrific top-end crash/death of veteran driver Scott Kalitta(Funny Car) in the NHRA POWERade Racing Series, or the horrific March 8, 2008 top-end crash/death of veteran driver John Shoemaker(nostalgia Top Fuel dragster) in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series. Based on the unpublished and confidential end-track photos and videos I have of both Scott's and Johns accidents, neither driver had any real chance of survival. The bottom-line is, that if a nitro driver is knocked out by a top-end engine explosion(Scott), or passes out at the top-end of a run(John), and
the throttle hangs wide-open/driver doesn't lift off the throttle, a shorter 320 feet official track length, or another 500 feet in the shutdown area will not save the driver's life. And, it doesn't matter if the dragster is going 320 mph(Scott) or 260 mph(John). Due to forward motion crash physics, the chances of surviving a top-end runaway nitro dragster crash, in these circumstances, are between slim and none. - See my FR "Straight Talk" NHRA Drivers Memorial section for more info
NHRA will continue to see major attendance decreases, due to 1,000 feet nitro racing, for the simple reason that the majority of veteran fans, that annually support NHRA with multiple event attendance, dont like it. And, NHRA brass knows it. Further, serious nitro drag racing fans dont give a [beep] what Don Garlits, John Force, Kenny Bernstein, and other NHRA corporate mouthpieces have to say in their MSM statements that NHRA made the right decision going to 1,000 feet, its good for the sport, the fans like it, and all their other erroneous comments. All this does is further alienate and insult NHRA's core fan base.
Further, the NHRA's belief that 1,000 ft. nitro racing will reduce top-end motor explosions, fires, and expensive internal motor damage is total nonsense. And, every NHRA veteran with a basic understanding of nitro motors knows it. Crew chiefs will just build/tune nitro motors to lean out and "nose over" at 1,000 ft., instead of 1,320 ft., and we are back to square one as to top-end explosions/fires. From track reports, this is exactly what transpired during off-season testing here in Florida and Arizona.
What I loathe about 1,000 ft. nitro racing is it's for candy-ass drivers and fans - no fans disrespect intended, but drivers disrespect intended. Any honest top nitro or alcohol dragster driver, which I've driven the latter(both blown gas and blown alcohol dragsters), will tell you it's much harder to drive 1,320 ft. than 1,000 ft. due to the engine's power/acceleration curve. It's amazing how the final 320 feet changes everything. Some drag racing organizations only race an 1/8 mile, which is 660 ft. Is this the direction of NHRA with nitro dragsters already running 320+ mph in off-season 1,000 ft. testing? NHRA has always been the elite drag racing organization. Bottom-line. . ., you run 660 ft. and 1,000 ft lengths in drag racing school, until you get the experience to make full 1,320 ft passes. That's where these shorter distances need to stay.
After attending the 2008 NHRA Finals in Pomona, and talking to some of the "they really know" crew chiefs and drivers in the pits, there appears an above average chance that NHRA will return to quarter-mile nitro drag racing in 2010, or a mixed 1,000 ft/1,320 ft format depending on the track. Some of the crew chiefs' logic expressed for staying at 1,000 ft racing, for the 2009 season, made sense from a macro perspective. Further, decisions are not made in a vacuum and there is a lot of politics involved in this matter - some that has nothing to do with drivers safety. So, like many NHRA veterans, I'll shut my yap for 2009 except for this season opening statement.
P.S. I will know more about this situation after attending the 2009 NHRA Gatornationals and Spring Nationals. If there are any major changes I will post an update to my comments. - fla 2. Oildown Penalties Suspended:
A totally incompetent decision. This decision does one thing - it encourages crew chiefs and drivers to unreasonably push the limits of their nitro engines which will result in more explosions, fires, and potentially killing another driver. It will also cause more racing delays, while the track is cleaned up, and a more inconsistent track. Instead of suspending the track oildown penalties (monetary fines and loss of points), NHRA should have doubled them for 2009, as part of an emphasis to greatly reduce the out of control nitro engine explosions and fires, which the shear number are the worse in my 30+ years of NHRA involvement. There is no logic in NHRAs decision. In their press release they twice state the following: . . . The move is designed to save teams money . . .This move is designed to ease the financial burden on the race teams. NHRA position is poppycock. A bad three day racing weekend of blowing up nitro motors and frying dragsters and chassis with major oil/fuel fires can cost team sponsors $100,000 to $250,000. The suspended oildown monetary fine is peanuts compared to these costs. Hopefully, NHRA will reverse this very poorly thought out decision. 3. No bonus points for 1,000 feet nitro National elapsed-time records:
Poor decision, but I'll pass comment because there are bigger fish to fry. However, it must be stated that Doug Kalitta lost a NHRA Top Fuel World Championship to Tony Schumacher when Tony set a NHRA national e.t. record and his bonus points edged out Doug's total points for the season. 4. Christmas Tree Timing Change:
Great decision and well needed change. This helps the less experienced drivers and there will be less races decided by drivers blindly cutting the tree. For 2009, we will probably see average reactions times increase and more red lights, even by the seasoned veterans. 5. Electronic Safety Shutoff System:
While NHRA gives credit to the company that designed this new electronic system, is was actually my main men Del Worsham and his father Chuck that were the first to design and adopt a system like this in 2008. While this system is an excellent idea, that I support 100%, it is only a detective measure. Protective measures are 100% superior to detective measures. NHRA needs to mandate rules changes to put a stop to the out of control nitro engine explosions and fires. Without question, another nitro driver will be killed by one of these massive explosions and fires, unless NHRA puts a stop to them. It must be remembered that nitromethane produces a high explosive factor than TNT. Further this new system only works if the burst panel blows out. Many serious nitro fires are caused by pushed out head gaskets, and the like, that don't blow out the burst panel. I've also witnessed serious fires because rods were kicked out the side of the aluminum nitro engine block, yet the burst panel was intact. In these cases, the current new electronic shutoff system is useless. Further, this is an electronic system with electrical wires. I question if the system will work properly/timely in some of the worst engine explosions and/or a split second massive fire that destroys the electrical wiring. I'll understand this situation better after attending March 2009 NHRA races and talking with some of the nitro crew members and drivers.