NHRA searching for ways to improve Top Fuel safety

By Jeff Burk

"I think the cars are extremely fast, but I think more importantly the cars aren't safe enough, especially the top fuel dragster. I think there's composite tubs like the Indy cars have and Formula 1 has, if you recall Ayrton Senna was killed in '94 basically the same way Darrell Russell lost his life, by getting hit in the head. When that happened they changed the configuration of the tubs in Formula 1 to make the driver way more protected and it's a composite tub that he sits in.

"I think it would be very simple, and we are working on it, to get a composite tub put together where the driver can be more sound and safe inside the car. I think that's going to be a huge step forward, because realistically the same design that Don Garlits came out with in 1970 with his rear engine dragster is really the same design we have today, outside of a few more pieces of pipe. I think the cars are really outdated for the type of speeds that they run and the wing structure and the way they are constructed...I think they are just outdated.

"I don't really think its Goodyear's fault; I think its all of our faults for not staying current with the state of the art type of composites they have that makes the drivers more safe. If we can send a guy to the moon we can certainly go a quarter of a mile and not get hurt."

-- Don Prudhomme

The NHRA wasted no time implementing preliminary measures designed to improve the safety and survivability of Top Fuel cars and drivers immediately after Darrell Russell's tragic accident. They immediately required the Top Fuel drivers cage get more armor in addition to the currently required shield to prevent shrapnel from entering the cockpit, and
issued specs for a new Goodyear tire. According to DRO sources, the tire is one previously used. It supposedly is much harder than the tire that has been in use since Bristol, and is one that teams disliked; because of the hardness it was prone to lose traction.

The new rules should be very effective for the next race on the NHRA schedule at the mile-high Bandemere Speedway where making horsepower is a problem and Top Fuel speeds hover around 300. As the tour moves on to other tracks on the "western swing," however, the problems with the tires could resurface at near sea-level tracks like Sonoma and Seattle. The question remains what, if anything, else will NHRA do to solve the safety issues for Top Fuel cars and Funny Cars.

Immediately after the St. Louis race both the race teams and NHRA management agreed that Top Fuel cars needed to be slowed down. The only problem is that neither of the parties seem able to come to an agreement as to what is needed to accomplish that seemingly simple task. Unbelievable!

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