There has probably been no more compelling question in the world of NHRA drag racing than whether Top Fuel and Funny Car should go back to true quarter-mile racing.In other words, after more than seven years of racing to just 1,000 before a race is declared official, should the dragsters and floppers go back to what was the golden standard for more than 50 years, 1,320 feet?
Every year since NHRA decreased the distance from 1,320 to 1,000 feet, a vocal number of fans have asked for the original racing length be reinstated.Of course, the reason for the decrease in length in the first place was the tragic 2008 accident that killed Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey.
Because OBTRP’s runoff area is among the shortest in the sport – Auto Club Raceway is another that comes to mind that is very short – NHRA decided that reducing the length of a drag strip by 320 feet would enhance the safety of the sport and give the Nitro cars a bit more room for stopping distance. But with today’s modern technology and enhanced safety features, the call continues to go back to 1,320 feet. Admittedly, reaction is mixed across all fronts, including drivers. Guys like John Force and Tony Schumacher have said they like the shorter distance; Cruz Pedregon has said in the past that he’d like to go back to 1,320. These are all former NHRA champions – with 26 titles between them. If they can’t reach a consensus, how can fans be expected to reach a consensus, as well?
For those of you that are casual or newer fans to the sport, let me clear up one misconception. Only the Nitro cars – Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars – run just 1,000 feet. Every other class of racing, including Pro Stock, sportsmen and alcohol classes – still runs at the original distance of 1,320 feet. In the whole scheme of things, 320 feet doesn’t seem like all that much distance to a car that is hurtling down the asphalt at speeds approaching 330 mph. Sure, if something goes wrong, the extra room – roughly just over the length of a football field – does give the driver a bit of a safety cushion.
But given the development of modern safety products such as steel nets and the like, have we finally gotten to a point where there indeed is more than enough adequate safety devices that we can push things back to 1,320 feet? Whenever this topic is brought up, there is a large minority of old school or traditional fans that scream and holler “YES!”
Many of them have likely been fans of the sport for 20, 30, 40 or more years. And many of them believe a drag race is not a race until every class, including Top Fuel and Funny Car, competes at the same length. I recently received a number of unsolicited emails and tweets from readers who went so far as to say they’ve either stopped following the sport or scaled way back – and that they’ll remain that way until NHRA brings back 1,320 feet. It’s sad to see or hear/read that kind of thing because those same fans are missing so much from the sport, shorter track or not. They’re missing John Force come back in 2016 – at the age of 66 – and battle for his record 17th Funny Car championship.
They’re missing the opportunity to watch Force’s daughters, Courtney and Brittany, out on the track, as well as the likes of two-time defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders, 2015 Funny Car champ Del Worsham, 2015 Top Fuel champ Antron Brown and so many more. How about 53-year-old alligator farmer Jerry Savoie, who after a 30-year absence, came back to Pro Stock Motorcycle and almost won the 2015 championship. As for my own take, I’m real torn. I knew Kalitta and still mourn his passing. I understand why NHRA reduced things to 1,000 feet. And when it comes to everything that makes up a drag race or a national event, safety should always be the No. 1 priority.
On one hand, I definitely want to see Nitro cars go back to 1,320 feet. Then I, as I’m sure many others who also want to see the length increased to its original length, will feel the world of drag racing is back in balance and in harmony with the rest of the sport. On the other hand, however, NHRA has had a good safety record ever since Kalitta’s tragic crash. Granted, we still see some spectacular crashes every year, but state of the art safety elements are the reason why most drivers can walk away with minor injuries after wrecking at more than 300 mph.
Is it time to go back to 1,320, or should we stay at 1,000? I don’t know about you, but I’m betting there’s at least a few fans who would like to see 1,320 under their Christmas tree this year.