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Getting them up on the tires

These days if I want to stir up the troops all I have to do is write something about track prep. For instance, I was recently told by a couple of well-known Top Fuel tuners that the main reason for the severe “chunking” we are seeing the Top Fuel Goodyear tires suffer from could be traced directly to too much track prep past the 1,000-foot track length that NHRA has mandated for its top nitro classes. So I wrote that perhaps the solution would be to limit the distance that NHRA tracks get the maximum track prep to around 600-700 feet.

Well, that little statement resulted in a lot of letters berating me for even suggesting such a thing. (Read the current letters to the editor for examples). I was told that any track prep that didn’t cover the full racing distance would probably result in a lot of Sportsman cars crashing.

The implication I took away from the letters was that the racers simply couldn’t cope or safely race on a track that hadn’t received the max amount of traction and rubber applied to it from start to finish. If that is true what a sad state of affairs that is.

When I made my first quarter-mile pass down Amarillo Dragway 50 years ago in 1961 I don’t believe there was any track prep other than making sure there weren’t any serious piles of dirt or puddles of water on the track. And if there was oil, that was taken care of with push brooms and rice hull ash.

Today track prep has advanced to the level of a science where there are people who can actually get hired to oversee track preparation. Now we have wet/dry track vacuum cleaners, scrubbers, jet engine-equipped track driers, sophisticated machines that apply rubber to the track, barrels of traction compound, and at national events a crew of dozens of men and women dedicated just to doing that job. Track prep has become as important to racers as tires or fuel.

It really all started when the sport didn’t have any cars that would or could go 200 mph in a quarter mile and the fastest cars smoked the tires from the starting line to the finish. Then came soft rubber tires. slicks, and water/bleach poured under the tires so we could spin the tires to clean them off. Soon the sport got slipper clutches, drag slicks, and rosin being dusted onto the track to increase bite.

Back in the early days racers were often paid money for Top Speed in the professional classes and the NHRA actually awarded points for both speed and ET records. Drag racing was using speed and ET barriers being broken as an attraction for spectators and sponsors, like the race to the first 200-mph dragster, door car, or motorcycle as well as the race to be the first to break the seven-, six-, five- and four-second ET barriers. It was a glorious time in the sport for fans, racers and the press. 

However, in order to break these barriers the tracks and track surfaces became much more important than ever. Suddenly brooming, scraping, dragging, and drying tracks became all important, and increasingly time consuming and complicated. Racers became much more demanding so track owners were forced to repave and renovate their tracks on a semi-regular basis, and concrete became the standard which determined how good a track was or wasn’t.

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