Should NHRA Go Back to 1,320 Feet?

Photo: NHRA
Tony Schumacher, Drag Racing, NHRA
Photo: NHRA

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!”

 Drag Racing, NHRA
Photo: NHRA

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.


About Jerry Bonkowski 38 Articles
Jerry Bonkowski is a veteran motorsports writer who has worked for USA Today (15 years), ESPN.com (3 1/2 years), Yahoo Sports (4 1/2 years) and is in his third year with NBCSports.com's NASCAR Talk and MotorSportsTalk. He also is a regular on-air host for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (14 years). Jerry has been married for 30 years to Cyndee, the love of his life, and they are the proud parents of three adult children (still waiting for his first grandchild!). Twitter: @JerryBonkowski
  • Brian K. Rowley

    1320 Ft.
    Limit Engine displacement, tire size, clutch configuration what have you.
    I simply can’t relate to 1000 foot et’s and MPHs. I don’t know what is fast, what is off the mark etc. Hence, I am one that hasn’t been to a national event since 2007. Do I miss it, sure but again ?????.
    I was there the day Prudhomme dipped into the 4s at Indy. What a Milestone.
    The next race was Lahaie doing the same thing. —- 1320 ft.

    • Anthony Nelson

      On that horrible day we lost Kalitta the last set of Top/Fuel Dragster were Antron and someone else. Antron shoot had not deployed. Antron was able to stop his car.Kalitta seemed unconscious from grenading the engine. He never pulled the brake handle or went into the wall to scrub off some of the speed. When his car was in the air at the end it went into the skylift that was over hanging above the sand traps that ESPN camera man was to use the following day for Sunday’s eliminations upon that let’s say second impact the engine on Doug’s car went through the tree’s and landed on Pension Road right outside the track. Fortunately no one was at the moment going to there house or traveling that very moment pass the track.

      • Jim Jim

        You posted “Doug” when it was Scott Kalitta.

        Also, I believe they used to stop traffic from passing by on Pension Rd. when the top fuel dragsters & funny cars made their runs just as a safety measure.

        But I agree with everyone who says if the tracks don’t have enough shutdown area then they shouldn’t be being used!……If they can’t or won’t become compliant to run 1320 then pull all sanctioned events and have them elsewhere.

  • Gayle Lendabarker

    How about addressing the real issue?
    Should a track be allowed to host an event if it does not have adequate safety equipment?
    if there is no safety crew would the event go on? how about timing lightsChristmas tree? so, changing the sport because some tracks cannot provide a long enough shut down area is not acceptable, this sport was begun with one goal, to go as fast as possible over a quarter mile, so changing any part of that changes the entire sport, I am aware that 1320 feet is a number that came from horses but even then there had to be a safe environment to run those races. also how are we measuring our current hero’s against the legendary names? if the engines only have to hold together for roughly 75% as far as they used to then longevity is not as important and you can build closer to the edge of breakage due to knowing that it only has to hold for a shortened distancetime, If they only had to stay together that long, how much faster would they have run 30 years ago? You all know that Garlits, Prudhomme, Muldowney, Kalitta and all the rest would have pushed the limits of their equipment to ALMOST the breaking point at 1000 feet instead of 1320 so they would have broken the 6, 5 and 4 second barriers way sooner, It isn’t impossible that some other names that were quick but broke often would have been the stars of the sport instead of the names we all know now because their stuff didn’t break at the 1100 foot mark, NASCAR lost a legend on track in 2001, and as a result they have changed the TRACKS responsibilities they didn’t slow the cars down they made everything else safer

    • T. Spurr

      Absolutely correct! Rarely watch or attend anymore because of the 1000′ rule. If the track doesn’t have enough shutdown area, no National Event.

  • Ralph Cummings

    I thought there was a piece of concrete for a light pole at the end of OBTRP’s gravel pit that Scott Kahlitta careened off of

    • GeorgetownH

      I thought he hit the netting flipped into the air and hit a crane camera

      • Bob Cole

        if that idiotic crane hadn’t been there….

  • Scott E.

    I really miss the 1320ft length. I am all about safety for drivers, fans etc in ANY kind of motorsport. Why hasn’t NHRA mandated a standard shut down area length for any track that wants to host a National event? I understand some tracks don’t have the property, but I’m sure if they were willing they would find a way to respect the tradition of the NHRA 1/4 mile’s history.

    • kungfubarbeque

      many tracks could never get approval from local governments (englishtown for 1)

  • David Vaught

    Went to the Summit race in Ohio this past year,found 1000ft kinda boring.

  • Alex Saldivar

    After trips to Sonoma and Pomona this year one thing was very clear. These fuel teams are throwing way more power at the track way sooner. As they are presently being tuned I don’t think the motors would hold the entire 1320. In that sense I really found myself being a convert to the 1000 ft track because of the increased intensity. Fast Jack’s Saturday evening run of 3.94 was the greatest FC run I had ever witnessed and I go way back to Raisin City..

  • Tom Susala

    PLEASE go back to 1320!!!!
    I only say it because I’ve watched 1320 ft runs for 40 years….

  • Tom Fowler

    It is time to return to 1320 ft. If the tracks can’t support the runoff then no national event. I realize some tracks would have to reconfigure. In the name of safety ? Seems legit to me.

    • Daniel Montes

      But, the sad thing is a lot of historic tracks cant accommodate longer shut off areas. Would hate to see pomona go just because they cant extend the shut off

      • Tom Fowler

        Yes. They could build a bridge at the end of the track as far as I’m concerned

  • Mike Snyder

    1320

  • Tom Tourek

    Short answer is yes, get back to the 1,320. Long answer – I had no problem with shortening the track to 1,000′ as a reaction to Scott’s accident and subsequent passing. However, at that time the NHRA stated that it was a temporary solution to make the sport safer. Well, seven years later, that temporary solution has become permanent because nobody wants to make difficult decisions. Unfortunately, in the NHRA the tail wags the dog…Shumacher and Force have more power than the santioning body itself. Slow the cars down a little and get back to the full 1320. Continue making strides with additional safety mechanisms, but please give us – the consumer – a full drag race! Here’s a thought, if I only get to see 75% of a drag race, then I only want to pay 75% of the ticket price!

  • Jay Jerden

    I would love to see the Nitro Class back to 1320 feet on the tracks that have extended their shut down area and the ones that haven’t ,keep them at 1000 feet.

  • Loudlyquiet1

    Instead of shorting the distance for nitro racing, the NHRA should have mandated longer shutdown areas with improved safety devices in the catch pit to begin with. If the current participating drag racing properties didn’t/don’t want to comply, disqualify them and find other properties that would comply. I’m sure there would not be a problem getting other properties to sign on due to the economic value that the NHRA races and other events using the same drag strip bring to the participating areas. The quarter mile has been the standard from the outset of drag racing. It brings more excitement to the sport and is more entertaining to the more knowledgeable die hard fans.

    • srmpulr

      Most 1000 foot drag races are won on the starting line. They need to go back to 1320 to put more excitement at the top end. Let them fight it out if it comes to that by the top end of the track (1320 feet). Slow the cars down with 1 mag, less % of nitro, less fuel, whatever, and improve the shut down area. I also think it may keep some raw fuel off the last part of the track (320 feet) that the pro stock cars and bikes that are under power and have to drive thru.
      With ticket prices as high as they are, I would like to see a full race.
      Just my 2 cents.

      • Gene

        Your answer along with show room style bodies is the best answer Ive seen Not just a complaint or an opinion. a couple of years ago I put forth a formula of: 8 cyls , 430 cid , 871 blower, 8 plugs , 1 mag, 50 gpm pump and a body that can be identified in its unmarked and unpainted state . Also, loose that stupid rear spoiler

    • Lenny Delvecchio

      They couldn’t have mandated those things “to begin with” – those modern safety devices didn’t exist 40 years ago when most of the tracks were built, and there was no need for a longer shutdown area because cars weren’t going as fast as they do today. Furthermore, it is impossible for most tracks to lengthen the shutdown area because of property limitations.

    • jimbo

      Yep. If the shutdown area is too short don’t race there. F1 has no problem refusing to race at substandard tracks. (most of them seem to be in the USA) Top Fuel drag racing is is no kids game, it’s very serious stuff. The tracks should have state of the art facilities for the safety of the drives and spectators.

  • napacardriver

    Three things will save NHRA from continuing the tailspin it has been since reducing track length to 1000 foot. First go back to quarter mile racing for the pros. Losing Scott Kalitta was horrible but that was a knee jerk reaction that should be corrected.
    Second, up the payout for sportsman racers. They are the life blood of drag racing and the payouts are insulting to say the least.
    Third, do away with 4-wide racing. Drag racing is two cars.

    • Bob Cole

      it sure was. scott was not at 1320 when it blew up. he wasn’t much past 1000′ from what I can tell on the video . speed and length of track didn’t kill him.

  • Dan Clements

    1320 is the standard, always has been. Anything else is blasphemy. NHRA has become just another nanny organization, and yes, count me among the boycotters. If a track hasn’t sufficient shut down area, don’t run there, plain, pure, simple.

  • Al Cattoni

    Hello, My opinion is that if the track doesn’t have the space to extend there track, then it shouldn’t be a sanctioned track in NHRA. Bring back the 1320′ Bottom line. That’s what we want as NHRA fan’s.

  • Barry Beegle

    I think we should boycott nhra races until they go back to the quarter mile. As for drivers, it was a quarter and if they prefer 1000ft tough. I quit following nhra racing when they went to 1000ft. One person doesn’t effect them tho. I’ve maybe watched two finals on ESPN since the change. I agree with AL C.

  • John

    Why not just run 1320 on the tracks that can handle it? Then on the other tracks run 1000ft. Hell throw in some 1/8 mile races too. Adds more stops on the tour sells more tickets and merch. Makes crews really work on each new track with a whole new world of challenges. We need more drag racing period! Thank God the TV coverage is million times better this year, and I don’t have to wait for collage women’s softball games or regional basketball to be over to watch it.

  • unabashed candor

    they are actually going faster now with 2000 more hp, so, is it really safer?

    • Bob Cole

      no it isn’t safe. they are going 330 at 1000′ , which means they are going 300 at 1320, which scott was too. and scotts car blew up before 1320. this accident could happen today. nhra sucks balls. I used to spend the weekend in gainesville. now I go one day, maybe.

  • Bob Cole

    it’s really not about the length, it’s about having enough time to have a race. and when the cars at over 260 at 1/8 mile, 1000′ is not enough. it’s boring. they ruined it to cover their sorry asses. espn and nhra killed scott kalitta. no one else.

  • Reid Tock

    For Sure They Need to go Back to 1320, Cars are still Hitting over 300 mph Plus, so whats’ the point of keeping it at 1000 feet, the idea was slow it down, that was a main issue

  • 1320 Forever !!!

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