Volume IX, Issue 9, Page 1

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Changes need to be made before the sport has another preventable fatality!

Now virtually every one of the John Force Racing team’s Mustang Funny Cars have crashed, and it would appear from reports that in at least three of the crashes frame and/or tire failure were the causes.

The most recent crash, that of John Force at the Texas Motorplex, is perhaps the most significant. Looking at the incident frame by frame there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that something on the car --either a tire, the chassis or both -– failed, causing the car to break in half when the chutes were deployed. The chutes evidently helped or completed the chassis’ separation into two pieces. The front half of Force’s chassis, with the engine still in the frame, slid across track directly into Kenny Bernstein’s lane and Bernstein hit it head on. According to car builder Murf McKinney, Bernstein’s car was wrecked beyond repair. Thankfully Bernstein wasn’t injured.

At the same time John Force, still strapped into the driver’s cage, skidded to a halt but not before being seriously injured, tumbling around in his lane with his legs flailing around in the air. Force’s family, team, and the sport are extremely lucky that neither Force nor Bernstein were critically injured or even killed in this latest Funny Car crash.  

To me this crash proved two assumptions many of us had and solidified a  third. First: there just is no doubt that there are some serious chassis issues regarding at the least the Funny Cars that John Force Racing is currently using. Eric Medlen, Robert Hight, and now John Force’s Mustangs all have suffered some type of chassis failure in the same area. I’m no engineer and don’t claim to be, but three failures in the same area of a chassis in a short period of time is a pattern, not random failure.

Second: the research that JFR has done and the rules that the NHRA has implemented are working. This horrific accident proves that to me. Kenny Bernstein had a serious head-on crash and pounded the wall at Dallas at speeds approaching or exceeding 300 mph and was uninjured! John Force suffered no head or neck injuries from a 300+ crash. In my opinion JFR, the safety equipment manufacturers, and the chassis builders deserve kudos for developing a safer cockpit.

Third: like it or not, drag racing cars that reach or exceed 300 mph on a pass are still having issues with tires “chunking” and possibly failing and that is an inescapable fact.

There is no doubt that Force had a tire failure at over 300 mph. The cause remains unknown, despite what you think you see on video. The thought that a cone hit by Bernstein caused a catastrophic tire failure by going under the chassis seems very remote. If the cone had reached the tire, common sense would dictate that a tire turning in excess of 325 mph would explode. A look at the tape shows that neither of Force’s tires exploded. The left tire may have delaminated, but you can take it to the bank, Goodyear isn’t likely to admit that one of their tires failed without outside influence in this or any other case. To do so would be business suicide, especially with the Darrell Russell case still in court.

The tire issue and the chassis failures are the 800-lb gorilla in professional drag racing’s living room, and the sport better start paying attention to it. Immediately after Darrell Russell’s fatal accident then-nitro guru Ray Alley consulted with Murf McKinney (and I assume other chassis builders) and announced a decision to require the heat-treating of some tubes in the Top Fuel chassis in hopes that it would strengthen and make the chassis less likely to fail at high stress loads in certain areas. At that time many chassis builders privately voiced the opinion to me and others that heat-treating the 4130 Chrome-moly SFI/NHRA mandated tubing used to build the cars was the wrong thing to do.

After Eric Medlen’s tragic accident once again a rule change was instituted by NHRA to require certain areas of the Fuel Funny Car chassis tubing to be subjected to (I think) the same heat-treat procedure. Once again in off-the-record conversations with chassis builders and one Boeing aircraft engineer, they all told me that heat-treating that material was wrong and would make the tubing more prone to failure. I spoke with many of the chassis builders, but only Don Long would go on the record against the decision.

I was recently told that Brad Hadman was ready to speak out, but a call to that renowned builder of Top Fuel and Funny Cars has, as of this writing, gone unreturned. The chassis builders evidently fear retribution from the NHRA or are just unsure of their positions. How do those guys sleep at night if they truly believe what they say in private?

Like it or not professional drag racing is at a crossroads. The fact is that tires in the professional classes are a safety problem; obviously there is also some problem with the specs for the Funny Car and Top Fuel chassis. It is time for the sport’s sanctioning bodies to make serious changes and now!

What would happen to the sport if, God forbid, another driver dies and Goodyear and NHRA have yet another lawsuit on their hands? If it had been anyone but Eric Medlen you can bet that NHRA and Goodyear would be in court with another lawsuit right now.

Save me from the fans who write to tell me that drag racing is an inherently dangerous sport and that’s the way it is. Ask Julie Russell how she feels about that. Ask Laurie Force how she’s feeling about her daughter driving one of these cars. Ask Eric Medlen’s family.

I’ll bet you that when HD Partner’s Eddy Hartenstein saw John Force and Kenny Bernstein crashing (if he was watching) his stomach was churning. What’s he got to promote/sell if two of the most recognizable names in drag racing, John Force Racing or Kenny Bernstein, weren’t part of the show? 

It doesn’t take a trained engineer to know that drag racing today has a problem with too much speed and chassis under too much stress. It’s time for those who supposedly are tasked with the sport’s best interest to either step up or step aside. This is serious. Like it or not it’s time to slow down the fuel cars or shorten the tracks or take some down force away or whatever an independent panel of experts (are you listening Goodyear and SFI?) recommend to stop stressing tires until they start chunking and fail, and to put less stress on the chassis.
(see former IHRA World Champ Paul Romine’s letter in the letter to the editor section)

The chassis builders per se are not to blame here. They’re just working within the rules and environment that the NHRA and IHRA give them but never the less how many more lawsuits will Goodyear sustain, how many chassis builders want to be sued by a survivor or his family?


Drag racing’s leaders have to do something before we all meet at another funeral or dedication to a fallen hero -- or they need to get out of the chair and bring in someone with the guts to make the hard calls.