Crisis time for the NHRA

Mark Niver For the second time in a month, a NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster racer has lost his life in an accident.  Sunday at the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways outside Seattle, 60 year-old Mark Niver from Phoenix suffered fatal injuries when after deploying his parachute to slow his car it detached from the machine slamming him into netting at the end of the track and folding the car.


neal Parker Last month at Englishtown, NJ, Neal Parker, 58, of Millville, New Jersey was killed when his car failed to slow after a 250 mile run and crashed into barriers at the end of the track. His parachutes never opened.

Top Fuel Champion Scott Kalitta was also killed at the Englishtown, NJ track in 2008 when his car suffered catastrophic mechanical failure.

In February of this year, a female fan was killed at the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway from a tire that came off Top Fuel Dragster Antron Brown’s machine.

Add in 14-time NHRA Champion John Force’s accident at Texas in 2007 that could have claimed his life and the testing accident in March of that same year in Gainesville that did claim the life of John Force Racing driver Eric Medlen and NHRA has a glaring problem which is safety.

Let me state before going any further, racing will never be 100 percent safe. It is an impossibility.  However, one must pursue every option that is available to make the sport as safe as humanly possible!

John Force has made safety almost his religion since the loss of Eric Medlen and his own accident.  Part of that passion is that his daughters Ashley, Brittany and Courtney race as does his son-in-law Robert Hight.

Ford Racing has jumped onboard with the use of their “Blue Box” on all Nitro Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars in NHRA. These data centers collect valuable information in any accident that can help engineers find what went wrong and help them toward a solution to the problem.

NHRA shortened runs in the Nitro division to 1000 feet.  A good move that now must be implemented also in all classes of NHRA competition.

NHRA needs to bring all parties that participate in NHRA, owners, drivers, crew chiefs, technical people, and anyone that has a stake in finding solutions to the table. 

I’d put together a blue ribbon panel of industry experts.  I use the word “industry” to also cover those not involved in NHRA drag racing.  I want the foremost experts in racing wherever they are found.

NHRA must look at the facilities they race at and have a standard that does not waiver from facility to facility. Why aren’t their safer barriers on the track walls? Why aren’t fences in front of spectators higher? Why aren’t there crushable barriers at the end of the runs?

There are a lot of questions that must be asked and NHRA needs to be open and honest when asking them, even if the answers may not be to their liking.

NHRA has a responsibility it can not avoid.  The organization must be forthcoming and transparent as it moves itself into the forefront of racing safety not only in drag racing but in the world. Let’s all hope they become obsessed with safety so we can all smile at the end of a race weekend instead of shedding tears.


Is ISC about to say goodbye to IndyCar?

If you are an IndyCar fan and you attend races at Watkins Glen, Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway, and Homestead-Miami Speedway you may not be seeing the series at those venues in the very near future.  Rumblings are that as soon as current contracts with IndyCar run out, they are gone.

This is very interesting as former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joie Chitwood now works for ISC and most thought he was onboard to forge a better relationship with IndyCar.  That theory is about to go out the window.

While ISC is seemingly cutting its ties to IndyCar, SMI under head man Bruton Smith seems to be increasing his.  Just announced a race next year at one mile New Hampshire Speedway.  Already there are races at Smith’s Texas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Infineon Speedway. Could an alliance with SMI bring IndyCar to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway? Anything is possible.

Let’s be honest, tying your survival to one promoter/track owner is not a good thing.  Suddenly your entire existence is in the hands of at worst a benevolent dictator. (Can you say Nascar?)

Could an almost exclusive relations with Speedway Motorsports lead to a takeover of IndyCar by Bruton Smith? Considering Smith’s penchant for flash, it is a possibility.

What does all this mean?  I think it could spell disaster for the struggling IndyCar series.

SMI’s bread and butter is Nascar and they need to focus their attention on getting butts in the seats at those events not an IndyCar series whose appeal has waned for the last decade. At some point, that fact would come home to SMI and then they might also dump IndyCar. That could be a fatal blow for the series.

Just like if you invest in the stock market, a diversified portfolio of tracks and promoters is the soundest decision to be made.  Let’s hope Randy Bernard and the brain trust with IndyCar don’t get blinded by the flash of the short term instead of a solid investment in slow and upward growth.