Regardless, the bottom line really is that I want to continue seeing 300-plus-mph passes. To me, that's the magic number and without it, Top Fuel just wouldn't be Top Fuel anymore. And I'd bet that's the opinion of the casual fan in the stands, too. I'm convinced most fans couldn't care less about seeing a 4.48-second pass versus a 4.98-second pass—but they do pay attention to the speed. Think about it. When some guy who comes out just once a year to see the visiting NHRA or IHRA nitro spectacle goes back to work on Monday, what's he gonna' tell his buddies: "They were running mid-4s," or, "They were going over 300 miles an hour!"? It's all about the speed, man. That's what sets Top Fuel and Fuel Coupes apart, they are the fastest racecars going—bar none—and that's what people remember.

But I don't think they have to go faster and faster. With both classes now making 320-mph runs seem almost routine, and 330-mph passes no longer uncommon, I think they're going fast enough and the sanctioning bodies have to do whatever it takes to establish and enforce a speed limit over the quarter-mile distance. I know, I know, I can already hear
howls of outrage from the purists out there, but that was the opinion of many, many NASCAR fans, too, when that organization arbitrarily decided back in 1987 to make 200 mph its never-exceed speed—regardless of which track they ran on or what technology came down the pike. And it hasn't seemed to hurt their popularity.

So far in drag racing, though, the powers that be have historically reacted with rule changes to lower speeds temporarily after an accident or series of accidents, only to have the race teams quickly recover the lost ground and go even quicker and faster in short order. That cycle has to stop somewhere and NHRA/IHRA officials are the only ones who can make that call—and make it stick. They have to mandate rules that can quickly be adapted when teams start approaching their never-exceed speed. And be willing to enforce that speed limit over the long haul.

Now, I don't pretend to know what rules should be made. I've heard all the talk about nitro percentages, wing sizes, wing angles, blower overdrives, etc., but I certainly don't have the engineering or racing background to seriously make suggestions on what to change. I have faith, however, that there are people in places of power with the know how to get this done.

Yes, it would mean the end of national record setting, but again, no one seems miffed that Bill Elliott is still the fastest stock car driver 17 years later. Why should drag racing's fans be any different? Crew chiefs would still be concentrating on getting the most out of their combinations to go as fast as possible—the rules just wouldn't allow them to be at the limit. It works at Daytona and Talladega qualifying, so it should work at Pomona or Englishtown, too. Plus, establishing a speed limit would allow Goodyear and perhaps other parts suppliers to better research and develop products they know will stand up to the punishment of nitro racing. Every car down the track would no longer have to be a rolling testbed. If you give them a target they can count on not to move at the next race, I'm confident they can hit it.

Another option, of course, would be to reduce the racing distance to an eighth mile, return to 98% nitro, leave the wings as they are, and give basically free rein to the teams in the engine and clutch departments. That would permit a whole new slew of records to be set and would effectively reduce the racing speeds to a much more manageable level. However, setting and enforcing a speed limit (and I advocate setting it at or higher than the fastest speed so far attained), would ensure the 1320 would continue to be the "normal" playing field and drag racing would continue in the form we all recognize and love.


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Tocher Talks — 8/9/04
Making the case for Outlaw 10.5 sponsorship


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