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Notes from a
cluttered Desk


If there is one thing I have learned from the whole mess over Top Fuel tires and safety it is that drag racing just doesn't show up on the mainstream motorsports media's radarscope, much less that of the mainstream "stick and ball" media.

What brought me to that conclusion was the following: As a certified motorsports junkie, I get two or three motorsports-related publications per day that end up on my desk and I at least glance through them all. Two of my weekly favorites are Chris Economacki's National Speed Sport News and the AutoWeek magazine. Both of those are publications in which drag racing can be found and they are among the best, if not the best, ink and paper racing publications in the biz. Anyway I noticed that through all of the Darrell Russell tragedy and the ensuing Sturm und Drang concerning car and tire safety for the fuel cars, neither of those two publications devoted much, if any, space to drag racing's tire problem or attempted solutions.

They delivered lip service to Darrell Russell's crash and did little else in the way of follow-up coverage. Here's the point: If any one of F-1, NASCAR, CART, or SCCA's potential star drivers with Darrell Russell's credentials had been killed in a crash that was attributable to tire failure, and the sanctioning body kept racing on tires that continued to have the same problems they had prior to the accident, you can bet the farm those two publications and others like them would have been all over the story with weekly updates until a solution was arrived at.


And then there is the potential strike by the NHRA Pro teams. Again, were this labor action being threatened by the top teams competing in one of the so-called top tier motorsports such as NASCAR, IRL, or CART, it would be headline news. Sadly for big time drag racing, the editors of most of these print publications obviously don't think their readers give a damn about NHRA/IHRA drag racing or don't have beat writers assigned to drag racing that are in the loop. Any way you look at the situation, it doesn't speak well for the mainstream media or the average motorsports fan's concern for the sport of professional drag racing.


I recently had a conversation with Matt Strelo, Vice President of Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis. GIR also has a mile oval and a road course, and is owned by Dover Motorsports Inc., which also owns Memphis Motorsports Park. Both of these venues host NHRA national events and also have major league oval tracks that feature NASCAR, USAC, and other tours on the ovals. One thing Strelo mentioned in course of a long conversation was that he believed drag racing's main problem, and one of the reasons that it didn't attract the same attention that NASCAR did with the average fan, was because drag racing had too many winners on race day—as in more than one. 

Now his idea isn't a revelation to anyone involved in the sport of drag racing. At almost every level of management they are aware that having multiple winners on race day is a problem. How to resolve that issue is the real problem.

I was sitting at my favorite dive bar, "The Cooler," just across the street from the DRO offices, thinking about that problem when it suddenly became clear to me that there was a solution for the too many winners problem at least in the fuel classes. That answer is of course to combine the Funny Cars and the Top Fuelers, and their purses into one. Then we would have a 32-car field with a much better purse structure. Hell, NHRA could even retain separate shootouts for Top Fuel and Funny Cars.

So I can hear you saying to yourself already, "The Burkster is cruising up the senile expressway on-ramp. He has really lost it." But bear with me just a minute and I think I might be able to change your mind.

To quote my buddy Ted Jones, "Here's the deal." We all know that NHRA and Winston tried to bracket race Fuel Funny Cars and Top Fuel cars a few years back at the Winston Invitational and that experiment was an abject failure on every level. I mean, it was bracket racing fuel cars for God's sake!

But I digress. The problem is that the Top Fuelers are consistently two-tenths or more quicker than the floppers. Here is my suggestion: we all know the Top Fuel cars need to be slowed down for their own good, so now is a perfect time to find a way to slow them down a little, leave the Funny Cars alone, and have one eliminator for fuel cars.

Don't tell me it can't be done. The IHRA officials found a way to ensure parity between nitrous and supercharged Pro Mods, which are completely different cars that had a two-tenth e.t. difference. It wasn't easy, but they did get it done; so could the smart guys at NHRA.

So, just for a moment, imagine that the two classes are joined together and the rules deliver parity between the two classes and both Top Fuel cars and Fuel Coupes are running 4.80's at 310-315 mph. Now, instead of 18-20 cars in each of two classes trying to qualify for separate 16-car fields we have 40-50 cars trying to make a 32-car field with one winner on Sunday. Nobody would have to park anything. Sponsors, fans and racers would have a choice between rooting for or racing a dragster or a flopper and, as I said, we can still have individual shootouts for each.

If either car type suddenly had a big advantage, the sanctioning body could do just what IHRA has done with Pro Mod—penalize the quicker class of cars.

Add weight, subtract overdrive or nitro percentage, whatever is needed, but keep both machines competitive. But if we slowed down the cars, which in turn stopped the tire-chunking problem and at the same time made the nitro show better, wouldn't that be a good thing?

Two things are pretty sure, though: the current crop of owners would probably never agree to something like this suggestion and the suits that run NHRA probably don't have the huevos to make the change for the greater good.

Everyone knows that drag racing has too many pro class winners on race day, which confuses the average race fans, print media sports editors and those Sports Center copyreaders/reporters.

This is just my idea and at least my friendly bartender at the "Cooler" approves. I don't hold out too much hope but a certified nitro junkie can dream, can't he?

Previous Stories
Burk's Blast "the publisher's corner"  — 9/10/04
Just Wondering

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