WILD AT HEART

NHRA STAR MATT HAGAN WENT 335MPH TO 1000 FEET AT TOPEKA. CARS ARE GOING FASTER OVER 1000 FEET THAN WHEN THEY WERE RUNNING OVER THE QUARTER. RACERS AND CREW CHIEFS WILL ALWAYS FIND A WAY TO GO FASTER

VICTOR BRAY

USUALLY around this time of year the debate around eight- versus 16-car fields for the Pro classes comes up. With the Winternationals attracting 18 entries in Pro Slammer, this year is no exception. When you get numbers up around the 20 mark, I think somethingís got to be done. There are a lot of cars out there on the first day of qualifying, and whether itís the NHRA, IHRA or the 400 Thunder series, you get a lot of spectators coming along expecting to see every single car out on the race track. That can sometimes mean a lesser crowd on race day, especially with an eight-car field, which in my opinion is not really a good idea when it comes to delivering the best show to the public. In Australia we usually run with an eight-car field, but I think the 16-car field is a much better spectacle.

In my opinion, if youíve got 20 cars you have to run a 16-car round.

Still, I can tell you, as with a lot of issues in drag racing, there are a few different options and opinions. First and foremost is: When do you run the first round? You definitely want to run the first round in front of a crowd, and when the track is up to it, and that means not running at nine oíclock in the morning on a cold track in front of empty grandstands. That has happened in the past to Pro Stock and Top Alcohol.

The other issue is they donít want to have too big a Ďspreadí on the cars. The guys that are running up at the pointy end have very good combinations, and because they are running faster, there is a higher risk of shaking the tyres, or blowing them off. Someone running a 5.80 or 5.70 with a shithot combination and taking the risk of going that quick doesnít want to run against a car that runs a 6.20 like a bracket car. Thatís why a lot of the faster guys donít like the 16-car field unless itís pretty tight. Some say the spread should be either three-tenths or four-tenths. That would mean if the record is 5.68, then 6.10 is about the slowest car they want in the field.

Another big issue is: How do you fit four rounds of racing into a day when everyone else in the Pro ranks is doing three rounds? The Pro Stock guys did it for a few years and finally realised it wasnít such a good idea. They were running on colder tracks, often late at night or early in the morning to get the rounds in.

Some people have suggested we could run an A and a B division. Iím not a fan of that idea. The reality is, the public want to see a winner. When you run an A and B final, you have two winners.

It does work in speedway, where you can win the B final and transfer to the A final, but at the end of the night, everyone remembers who won the main event, not the preliminary final. Drag racing is unique in that itís a cut-throat sport; you lose, youíre gone and you go home, which is one of the traits we enjoy.

In the lead-up to the Winternationals this year, with so many cars entered, some of the guys wanted a 16-car field, but others said: ĎHang on.

We entered believing it to be an eight-car field and although the 400 Thunder championship has already been won, weíre fighting for second, third and fourth place, so if you have a 16-car field youíre taking away opportunities for us to get points.í We had a vote and it was decided in favour of the 16-car format.

Over the past couple of years race organisers have experimented with eight-car fields, 16-car fields, three-round formats, and Chicago-style shootouts, but I think itís still a work in progress.

There are a lot of good ideas; maybe thereís

NHRA STAR MATT HAGAN WENT 335MPH TO 1000 FEET AT TOPEKA. CARS ARE GOING FASTER OVER 1000 FEET THAN WHEN THEY WERE RUNNING OVER THE QUARTER. RACERS AND CREW CHIEFS WILL ALWAYS FIND A WAY TO GO FASTER

someone out there who has thought of a better way to put together a race format, where you have 16 cars and bring them all out a couple of times on race day so the spectators get to see lots of racing and you end up with one winner.

What I donít want to see is any changes to qualifying. It needs to stay the way it is, with everyone going hell-for-leather trying to get into the top eight, whether itís an eight or 16-car field.

People should have to fight to get there and enjoy points and lane-choice advantages during eliminations by qualifying higher Ė thatís what makes qualifying such a spectacle.

One of the biggest stories in drag racing this year has been NHRA star Matt Hagan running 335mph to 1000 feet in a Funny Car at Topeka in Kansas. What could happen is that racers and crew chiefs could be told: ĎYouíre going too fast, so weíre going to slow you down.í Over the years theyíve tried just about everything.

Governing bodies have said: ĎWeíre going to limit your cubic inches, limit your overdrive, reduce your nitro blend, reduce your tyre size, cut your race distance from 1320 to 1000 feet. Thatíll slow you down.í

Well, none of those changes worked. The cars are going faster over 1000 feet than they ever did when they were running over the quarter-mile.

Racers and crew chiefs by their very nature donít give up and will always find a way to go faster and quicker. Drag racing is a never-say-die sport that rewards innovation.

Certainly, Australian drag racing has some pretty amazing characters and world-class innovators. Take Jamie Noonan from Yatala, near Brisbane, for example. Jamie is a secondgeneration, long-time drag racer who has won a Winternationals in Top Alcohol, worked in V8 Supercars, currently operates an Australianbased manufacturing facility with his family and staff and has just opened another facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. Heís a nice young bloke whoís very knowledgeable and is making it big-time on the world stage in engine building and cylinder head innovation. We use his heads on our engines and so do a lot of other teams, not only here in Australia but in America, and itís terrific to see him making his mark.

Jamie flies the flag for Australia on the world stage and we should all be very proud of him. s