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Shawn Langdon celebrates a victory in 1000 feet. Photos courtesy of NHRA.

 

1000 feet vs. the Quarter Mile: it’s the difference of 320 feet and an entire culture of racing which changed in response to Scott Kalitta’s death when the purported safety measures were temporarily put in place.  Now, 1000 feet is official, but should we be angling to return to the true quarter mile? We decided to ask some NHRA drivers for their thoughts. While most felt that 1,000 feet is the way to go and here to stay, others said it’s not the time to bring up the subject and others didn’t want address it at all.

We respect that.

Fans clamor for the entertainment factor of the quarter mile while those racers who did go on record stress the safety values and constraints on some tracks that have been around since the 200 mph barrier was broken. The current track layouts prevent expansion at many of the locations and the safety factor would be in jeopardy without them.  So do we slow down the cars? Or keep the tracks short?

Fans don’t want to slow the cars down, but where’s the limit? What matters most – the show for the fans or a safe race for the drivers.

Safety will always win and that’s the way it should be. The loss of any driver is of major significance and death of Scott Kalitta sent the signal to all tracks: the worst could happen and changes had to be made. So, should there be a return to the quarter mile?

RON CAPPS Top speed: 320.89 mph (Englishtown, N.J.) — “I don’t see it happening unless (NHRA) really waters-down the power of the nitro cars to slow us down. It makes me laugh a little bit. I understand the sport was grown on quarter-mile racing.  I love to race the quarter-mile and I can when I compete in the NHRA Heritage Series races when we go 5.50s at 260 mph in a nitro Funny Car.

“The choice you have to ask fans is would they rather have the power and the raw thundering horsepower and see their favorite drivers catapulted at speeds like nothing else in the world at 1,000 feet or do they want these cars to be slowed way down and go back to quarter-mile racing.

“We can’t go back to quarter-mile racing unless we slow these cars way down to speeds as where we raced first event 10 years ago. We would have to slow them way down or we’re going to lose more drivers like we lost Scott Kalitta. That wouldn’t be fair to Scott or his family or to Scott’s fans. All we would be doing is showing that we learned nothing from what happened to Scott.

“Most of our racetracks are importantly historically to us like Pomona can’t extend their shutdown. We can’t add on to Pomona. That’s a fact.”

Tim Wilkerson Top speed: 318.99 mph (Charlotte, N.C.) –“For it to be a debate I think you have to have two sides, and I don’t hear much of a debate in the Funny Car pits. I personally have no need and no desire to go back to a quarter-mile.  I won the first race ever run at 1,000 feet and I’ve always believed that 95% of the fans wouldn’t have known it wasn’t a quarter-mile if we didn’t tell them. Right now, the racing is better and closer than ever, the oil-downs are fewer, and we haven’t had any fatal accidents since we went to 1,000 feet. You won’t hear much of a debate in my house.”

Tony Schumacher: First to 330 at 1,000 feet: 330.23 mph (Phoenix) –“If they go back to 1,320 feet, the tracks have been lengthened so what will happen is they will slow the cars down and the fans will be mad about that. They’re not going to let us go 340 on a track at 1,320 feet with a short shutdown area.

“For NHRA to get it passed through its insurance they are going to have to slow us down. You will have fans unhappy with cars going slower at the quarter-mile than they ever had at 1,000 feet.

“I think 1,000 feet is a much better show for the fans, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s why we’re here. We have way fewer cleanups on any given day. The racing is much closer. At 1,320 feet, we never had as many races that are as close as the races are today. Way more cars get to the finish line under power, now. And there’s a lot less destruction.”

Matt Hagan: Top Speed 322.27 (Sept. 7, 2011; Charlotte)It would be good for all the diehard fans, but I don’t think it will happen unless there is a bunch money spent on these racetracks because these cars are so incredibly fast now. Most of our tracks were built when these cars were going 200 mph and now we’re going over 300.

“There are plenty of times now at 1,000 feet when we need more room to slow down  It’s a great idea, but racing these cars at a quarter-mile has surpassed its time.”

Matt Hagan with his trophy.  Photos courtesy of the NHRA.

Matt Hagan with his trophy. Photos courtesy of the NHRA.

Spencer Massey: Top Speed 332.18 mph (April 15, 2012; Charlotte; fastest ever)“I don’t have a problem either way as long as I get to drive a race car at 300 mph.

I raced 1,000 foot and 1,320 in the same season when I raced NHRA (1,000) and IHRA (1,320) in 2010. NHRA made the change because we were going so fast and to slow us down. If it will slow us down, as a driver I want to go as fast and quick as I possibly can. Either way, if it will make it a better show, make it safer or we can still go fast then I’m game for a quarter-mile.”

Jack Beckman: 320.58 mph (Oct. 5, 2012; Reading, Pa.; NHRA National Speed record) – “The fans who felt like NHRA ruined their world because now they can’t compare ETs and speeds to what they were used to when we raced to the quarter-mile still won’t be able to do that if we go back to the quarter-mile because (NHRA) will slow us down 25 mph and that will make the ETs higher. You still won’t be able to compare contemporary performances to 2008 and early performances when we had always raced for a quarter-mile.

“We might be reaching the point when they will have to slow us down regardless of what distance we run because we’ve picked up so much more acceleration out of these cars in the last five years.

“I’m OK either way. Even if we’re only going 295 mph and the dragsters are going 305 it wasn’t that long ago when those were stunning speeds in the quarter-mile. I don’t think the fans will get less of a treat.

“There are two issues with 1,000-foot racing: numbers don’t compare to those from a quarter-mile, and we have two different finish lines. The non-nitro cars all race the quarter-mile and the nitro cars race 1,000 feet, and that’s difficult to explain to some fans.

“That being said, there is hardly a dragstrip in the country that has grandstands to past 1,000 feet. “

Jeff Arend: Top Speed 318.09 mph (Reading, Pa. 2012) –“I wouldn’t be opposed to running a quarter mile at tracks that are long enough and 1000′ at the rest. If it comes down to slowing the cars down to go back to a quarter mile than I would rather stay at 1000 feet. We have closer racing now than ever before and in my mind, the driver’s reaction time plays a way bigger part. Miss it by a couple of hundredths and you are probably going home.”

That leaves drivers, and fans, with status quo. Not a bad place to be -the 1,000 feet distance is a good racing measure for Top Fuel and Funny Car to run at over 320 mph. It may be a little shorter, but the show is faster than ever.