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“KINGS OF THE SPORT?” How about the Jacks of the Sport?

For now, Top Fuel 2000, I don’t like it much.

Why? Well, as much as it stiffens my softening gut, I guess I’m getting older. I’ve been going to the drag races for 37 years. I loved Top Fuel then and still want to hear the results now. But now, not as much as I used to and age has a lot to do with it.

Call me old-fashioned. It’s an apt description this one time. I’m addicted to the past where a Top Fuel fan could expect anything and everything on the clocks. But not now, or for the foreseeable future. I’ve seen 4.40’s and 330-mph and I want more, and I’ve had that needle in my psyche for almost four decades. Tough monkey to discourage.

I realize that the radical new NHRA rules are old news. However, I’ve had four races now to digest them and their impact on the classes I like the most, Top Fuel and Funny Car.

First, the good news for me. Funny Car won’t be effected at all. Already we’ve seen 4.83’s, which compare nicely with a 4.779 best, and a 321.50-mph best speed is hardly buried in the shadows of a one-race pair of 324.05-mph shots of a year ago.

The bad news is Top Fuel. This is indeed the worst season performance-wise within memory. I get a call from a Gatornationals attendee. “How’s Top Fuel?” I ask.

He answers with a stunning lack of Top Fuel enthusiasm, “Aw, nuthin’ much. A 4.61 leads, about five cars in the 4.60’s, and then up to a 4.90 bubble.” He spoke it like we both knew that our favorite class was HIV-positive, so what’s the use of beating it to death.

Come Sunday night, another phoned update on Gainesville. Improvement? “Not much; Doug Kalitta set low e.t. in the final at 4.614 beating Schumacher’s 4.679 to win the Gators. Pretty good final, all in all.”

Yeah, to a degree, more for you, not to me.

What have we had so far? A low of 4.60 and an okay top speed of 322.42 at Pomona. A little better 4.57 at Arizona and a little worse 319 top speed. At super-biting Gainesville twin horrors of 4.61 at a leperous 318-mph. Las Vegas? No luck. More 4.60’s, no 320’s.

How off are those times? Check pg. 121 of National Dragster’s NHRA Top Performers in the Gatornationals results issue. All 1999 efforts. A shutout.

Hey, it’s their franchise, I just work behind the counter, but in my heart of hearts…KILL!!!!

Today, Top Fuel is like a noisier, faster Pro Stock. Side-by-side 4.7- and 4.6-second races, and yes, the issue is always in doubt as far as a winner goes. But the one thing that kept me coming back was how quick and fast. That impulse has faded to gray for me now. I say that the powers that be are wagering that the majority of the fans don’t really give a shit how quick, how fast, but more on side-by-side competition at a reduced price.

I can also hear those same powers say about people like me, how fast do we have to go, who has to get hurt or killed, before guys like you throw in the towel and say, “Slow down.”

I don’t know. Pretty feeble response I admit, but drag racing has grown and captured the public imagination by going with the aggressive side of its nature. The same “how fast“ inquiry could’ve been made when John Mulligan, who qualified No. 1 with a world record 6.43 at the 1969 U.S. Nationals, was killed when his engine exploded in a first-round win at that race over Tommy Ivo. However….

How many remember “Slammin’ Sammy” Miller’s “Oxygen” rocket dragster? In the early 1980’s, the thing ran a 3.81 quarter-mile at Santa Pod in England. Miller also had the “Vanishing Point” rocket Funny Car and clocked a 3.94 with it, so cars can be stopped going in the threes.

Yes, I know the questions that arise. What if the parachutes don’t work on the run or the brakes fail, what then? Spoon the guy out of his firesuit with a chorus of “I’m Sorrys?” All I’m saying here is that with the ingenuity shown in this sport, I believe we have enough sharp mechanical types out there to solve a stoppage problem. Even in the low 4’s at 330-340-mph.

I’m still involved in an official capacity with the sport. I still give a hoot. However, if I was a paying fan, this demise in performance for the Top Fuel cars would be impetus for me to really renew my interest in boxing or record-collecting, again.

As B.B. King would sing, “The Thrill is Gone,” for this hardened veterano and as a result, Funny Car holds far more interest for me now than Top Fuel. I don’t know if I’d go as far as my friend Niles Smith did when he wrote in a letter, “This is the end“ (for his interest in drag racing) in Drag Racing Online a couple of months back, but I find myself more in line with that sentiment in regards to the former “Kings of the Sport.” Top Fuel has lost its chief attraction for me. Will we see a 4.45, another 330.23, maybe faster? I don’t see anything close to that this year, although I hope I’m as wrong as hell.

Let’s just say that with four races in the books. I’m looking more at IHRA to see if they can put their Top Fuel cars into the 4.6s and 320-mph, than NHRA’s dragsters where they will, or so it appears, do the same thing over and over again.

Our fans are different, much different than say NASCAR’s. The NASCAR racers have had more governors than a United State. Their fans weren’t weened on how quick, how fast like drag race buffs. Sure, there were some Grand National aficionados who did care, but a 500-mile show is hugely different than a quarter-mile blast. NASCAR to NHRA is like a 10,000-meter run compared to a 100-meter dash. The elapsed times are more important to a sprint than an enduro. A 10,000-meter winner is not called the world’s fastest human, but a 100-meter sprinter is.

That’s the biggest sell of drag racing — or should be. We are the world’s quickest and fastest humans, and this encourages, at least for me, to see how far human ingenuity can go in this regard.

Make the tracks longer, make a deal with race-site city officials if you have to increase shut-off area, put a bounty out for greater stoppage equipment, build more bullet-proof equipment, whatever the answer, it bugs the bejeezus out of me that we have to back off on the performance of our ultimate racers. Call it a foolish prejudice, I guess.

Since it’s just my prejudice, I might well be wrong. Certainly, I would not want to do anything that would discourage younger incoming fans, who were not raised in the same fashion as me. To first-timers, 310-mph is a big deal, but they could get a better deal.

Keep in mind, though, I’m just mumbling to myself. Still…Top Fuel 2000? For now, I don’t like it much.


photo by Jeff Burk



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