WILD AT HEART

THE SHUT-OFF TECHNOLOGY BEING INTRODUCED MEANS THAT IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG WITH THE CAR – SAY IT BANGS THE BLOWER OR THE DRIVER IS KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS – THIS TECH WILL SHUT DOWN THE ENGINE AND DEPLOY THE ’CHUTES

VICTOR BRAY

THIS month I’d like to make a proverbial lane-change from the usual to talk about a couple of issues close to my heart: safety in drag racing, and the future of Doorslammer over the next 12 months or so.

There’s some pretty tough stuff going on in the class lately. Look at the times that are being run by the likes of Scotty Maclean from Darwin, who recently clocked a string of low 5.70s, and Benny who ran a 5.70 along with Gary Phillips’s 5.72 at the recent Nitro Thunder in Sydney. If you go back only six months or so, a time in the .70s was exceptional, and now it looks like it could become a regular occurrence.

So, the question is: What’s driving the massive improvement? Well, I think a lot of the teams are getting onto the technology that’s around, particularly in the electronic side of things. The weather has also played a major role, with the sport having a great run with nearperfect conditions over the past year or so.

The crew chiefs have been able to dial their cars in to the racetracks with more confidence. A good example of that was when Sydney Dragway decided to ground the track and get rid of a couple of bumps.

On the first day of racing a few people were unhappy, but when the track got some rubber down, the crew chiefs stepped up to the challenge and it became a great surface for Doorslammer racing.

A real positive about the new technology is that it’s helping settle the cars down, which allows the drivers to concentrate on hitting the shift points, presenting the crew chiefs with more consistent data, which allows them to fine-tune the cars and get them down the track faster.

One of the major changes in the sport over the next 12 months will be the safety initiatives, including the shut-off technology being introduced at Sydney Dragway, Perth Motorplex and Willowbank Raceway. It comes from a guy called David Leahy from the US company Electrimotion, and what happens is, if you go roaring down the racetrack and something goes wrong with the car – say it bangs the blower or the driver is knocked unconscious – this tech will shut down the engine and deploy the ’chutes. There is a sensor just past the finish line and another one further down the track, and there are also sensors on the burst panels of the car, so that if there is a backfire and the driver isn’t reacting, the ’chutes will be deployed and the engine turned off.

When the technology was first introduced in the States there were some guys who grumbled that they would be on a good run and then the ’chutes would accidently come out, but by all accounts the system today works fine.

It’s a good example of where drag racing technology is heading. A lot of people are complaining about the cost – around $1600 per car – but if it saves a life then it’s worth the price.

In Australia, all cars – Doorslammer, Top Fuel, Nitro Funny Cars, Pro Stock and Alcohol

– will need to have the system installed by August this year. Nitro Funny Cars are the most vulnerable, because when the car goes bang the percussion can knock the driver out or blow the body off the car.

I’m happy to see that safety issues are on the agenda and that the governing bodies want to make the sport as safe as possible.

I was thinking about where Doorslammer is heading in the next 12 months, and I really believe we could be on the verge of a ‘golden era’, where there are no barriers to what the class can achieve. A lot of where we are heading rests in the minds and talent of the ’Slammer crew chiefs.

Take Top Fuel, for instance; in the NHRA recently they’ve run 338mph to 1000ft. Just think about that; it’s insane! When you go back to when they cut the race distance from 1320 to 1000ft, they were running 334mph over the 1320 and the governing body was up in arms, saying this can’t go on and we don’t want cars to run this fast.

So how did that work out? It didn’t. It was never going to happen. Drag racing people, by their very nature, want to race quicker and faster. They don’t see limits; they see them as challenges. The history of the sport is all about innovation and pushing the limits, and if they’re told you can’t do this or that then they will find a way around the issue.

When you look at the sport, Top Fuel is the most restrictive and tightly controlled of all the classes. There are limits on the tyres, how much overdrive they can run, the percentage of nitro they’re allowed to use and the list goes on. It probably makes sense, because if there were no restrictions the big-budget teams would be out of control and speeds could be nudging 350mph and over.

In Doorslammer there are a lot of restrictions as well. We must carry 2700lb in weight, and are limited to 108 per cent blower overdrive and the types of fuel and additives we’re allowed to use. All brackets have rules in place to give everyone an equal opportunity. That’s good in theory, but you only need to get a couple of drivers sitting around during an oil-down to find that there is a difference between the theory and the reality.

Look at how they opened up Doorslammer racing in the US and you can see what could happen. In the PDRA Pro Extreme class they are only allowed to run over an eighth-mile because they are so fast. There are no limits on superchargers or the amount of overdrive and no restrictions on the use of electronics.

At around 225kg lighter than a Doorslammer, the front-runners are going 230mph at halftrack.

To give you an idea, an Alcohol Funny Car has never run that fast to half-track. You tell people there are no limits and they will go crazy. There was a Pro Extreme match race at St Louis racetrack over the quarter and both Doorslammers ran in the 5.40s at over 270mph.

It comes down to the fact that the boffins developing the technology in drag racing are moving way faster than the rule-makers. s