NHRA Adapts Street Legal Program; Preps for Top Fuel Call Out in Gainesville

Steve Torrence, NHRA, Pomona

The great Wally Parks began the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) more than 70 years ago, in a concentrated effort to take straight-line racing off local streets and onto dedicated race tracks, where both participants and fans could enjoy the opportunity to take their hot rods – and even their daily drivers – down a race track without having to worry about the safety of those around them, and themselves. Oh, and getting busted for street racing.

That ideology hasn’t left NHRA over the course of seven decades, but the manner in which street vehicles are introduced to the racing environment, and the way they are both produced and enhanced for racing purposes has developed massively over the years.

To make certain street legal motorsports retains its home in NHRA’s universe, the sanctioning organization has made significant changes to its Street Legal program, in order to continue the primary mission of eliminating the dangerous and illegal practice of street racing, an activity that has become more prevalent in recent years.

Throughout its history, NHRA has held Street Legal events at member tracks across North America, but felt the need to update and improve the program. “This couldn’t come at a more crucial time for our industry and sport,” noted Matt DeYoung, track manager at Tucson (AZ) Dragway. “We continue to see manufacturers make faster vehicles available right off the showroom floor, while increasing features that couldn’t be overlooked anymore.”

Working together with its member tracks to improve and grow the Street Legal experience, NHRA believes many of the changes it’s about to enact will grow both grudge racing and NHRA’s Street Legal program, all the while keeping faster OEM cars from taking to the streets and causing unintended issues for non-participants.

One objective is to allow racers with OEM model-year 2014 and newer production cars to run as quickly as the 9-second mark and/or 150-mph (or 5.40 in the eighth-mile). For production cars from 2008-2013, the allowable time is 10-seconds and/or 135-mph (6.40 in the eighth-mile).

NHRA has decreed the following OEM items must be retained unaltered: antilock brakes, airbag functions, stock frame/unibody construction (including OEM floors and firewall), together with complete functionality for all other OEM safety-related systems. NHRA’s Street Legal program will permit tires other than OEM, but they have to be DOT-approved.

Convertible cars and T-tops that are quicker than 13.49 (8.25) for the drop-tops and 11.49 (7.35) for T-tops must meet Summit Racing Series rollbar and roll-cage requirements. Drivers who are running quicker than 10.00 (6.39) or faster than 135-mph must have an NHRA Level 6 license. An NHRA Level 7 competition license is also available to racers whose ETs are above the 10-second mark (6.40).

NHRA will recognize racers’ on-track performance with distinctive and unique Street Legal decals, available for those who break the 13, 12, 11 and 10-second benchmarks in the quarter-mile and those who break the 9, 8, 7 and 6-second benchmarks on an eighth-mile local track. Racers who break into the 9’s in the quarter-mile and 5’s in an eighth at NHRA member tracks, who submit to NHRA a license application, receive exclusive decals, only available with the Street Legal NHRA competition license.

“At NHRA,” said Lonnie Grim, national tech director, “We very much support OEMs commitment to performance and recognize that there is still a very large market for performance cars. At the same time, we acknowledge that NHRA needs to keep pace with the current trends, which is why we’ve introduced these rules adjustments,” he said.

“Under these new guidelines,” Grim continued, “owners of Shelby GT 500, Corvette ZR-1, Dodge Demon, Tesla Plaid, or other high-performance vehicles will have the ability to participate in and enjoy NHRA Street Legal racing events without making extensive modifications to their cars.”

Street Legal NHRA racing is available for domestic and foreign OE< production-type automobiles and trucks. While NHRA condones the use of aftermarket parts, all of these machines must be street driven and drives have to show state-issued poof of registration and valid insurance information. All vehicles must be equipped with a valid license plate(s) and must be able to pass all state highway safety requirements for the state in which the vehicle is registered.

Many of NHRA’s Street Legal events feature open time trials and grudge racing only, which allows each participant to make as many passes down the drag strip as possible. And the grudge racing element allows participants to choose their competition instead of participating in an organized eliminator.

That kind of grudge racing will also find its way into a national event next week, during the 53rd Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida. When NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series alights in Florida for the third – of 22 – races this year, there will be a special eight-member race-within-a-race, the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout.

The eight participants are reigning four-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Phoenix victor Mike Salinas, Pomona winner and 2020 Rookie of the Year Justin Ashley, three-time champ and new team owner Antron Brown, nine-time race winner Leah Pruett, 49-time national event winner Doug Kalitta and 2013 Top Fuel titleholder Shawn Langdon. The latter two nabbed their spots last weekend during the Arizona NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

This Saturday-only event will feature a first round late Saturday morning, March 12, with semifinals to follow at 1:30. The final round is scheduled for 3:15PM and is part of FOX’s live Saturday broadcast.

The unique aspect of this event within the Gatornationals is the aspect of calling out the competition. Starting with Torrence, the driver gets the first selection of the seven remaining participants, followed by Force (if she’s not chosen by Torrence) until all match-ups are set. Torrence isn’t giving away his intentions in the week leading up to this event:

“I’m going to let everyone think about it for a week or two, and then I”m going to tell you who it’s going to be (in Gainesville),” the Texan said. “There’s no weak competition, so it’s going to be pretty stout. It’s going to be pretty cool to watch. We’re going to try to do our jobs, but we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Torrence admitted.

After the first round, the driver with the quickest winning run gets to call out their semifinal opponent, which automatically locks in the second matchup. The new Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout is the first time that unique twist has taken place in an NHRA Camping World specialty race; the rest of the field can’t wait to see how it goes down in Gainesville. While most of these eight drivers already are known for intra-class rivalries, “The callout gives it an edge, m makes it exciting and, I think, you’ll see some rivalries for sure,” said Force. “You’ve got to cut lights and you better have your ‘A’ game, or you’re going to be left behind,” added Salinas.


About Anne Proffit 1264 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

1 Comment on NHRA Adapts Street Legal Program; Preps for Top Fuel Call Out in Gainesville

  1. All that is nice….but at an iconic NHRA owned track (Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park) they have reduced the (almost) weekly Wild Wednesday street legal & slick test & tune to just a hand full of Wednesday. May 1st through October 1st, there are only three Wild Wednesday’s (out of a possible twenty two calendar Wednesdays) on the current 2022 schedule. If the NHRA were really worried about getting racing off the streets, seems to me, at least at IRP, the are missing 19 potential days of getting racing off the streets…

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