Changes to Drag Racing On the Horizon

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As followers of drag racing know, the sport has been economically troubled in recent years, and some have even worried that the NHRA won’t exist much longer in its current form. While such predictions may be a little alarmist, there’s no denying that the sport is in a state of flux. O. Bruton Smith’s four-track dragstrip in New Hampshire is just one example of the ways in which the NHRA and its racers are struggling to bring new fans to drag racing.

Of course, not all of the changes are designed to make the game more excited. Some are a little more complicated. For one thing, the National Hot Rod Association recently shortened the distance for Top Fuel and Funny Car races to 1,000 feet, as opposed to the traditional 1,320-foot standard that has been in place for as long as anyone can remember.

While some worry that this change is going to make the sport less exciting, there is good reason for it. Many throughout the racing community were shaken by the death of Scott Kalitta, the Funny Car driver, in a 2008 New Jersey crash. But although Kalitta’s loss was widely mourned, many argued that the change was bad for the sport—essentially akin to changing the Indy 500 to 400 miles, which no one would ever consider doing.

The issue with drag racing, however, is that the cars go at such high speed. Top Fuel cars tend to cross the finish line at speeds well over 300 miles per hour, and Funny Cars are only slightly slower. Hurtling at speeds like this in heavy, fuel-filled pieces of machinery is obviously dangerous, but opponents of the changes argue that drivers get into this knowing that there is an inherent risk to the sport, and that they take this risk willingly.

Since the changes were made, the sport has gone through one of its worst periods. Of course, it’s impossible to say whether or not the shortening of the track had anything to do with the sport’s economic downturn, as the change corresponded almost exactly with the downturn in the national and global economy. The only way to know for sure how this move will affect business is to wait until the economy improves, and go from there. If it appears that shortening the track has had a negative effect on the sport, then the NHRA might have to come up with some new ideas.

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