Whenever a fatality occurs at the drag strip, many questions come to mind. In the wake of NHRA Funny Car pilot Scott Kalitta’s death, the importance of safety once again comes to the forefront of people’s minds.
While speculation on the cause of Kalitta’s accident and whether or not his death could have been prevented with the addition of different safety devices, a differently designed car, or track changes, the fact remains that whether you are driving a 330+ mph Funny Car, a 165 mph Super Comp dragster, or a 115 mph stock-suspension Mustang, safety is paramount. It doesn’t take much to make a car go fast. That is evident every month in the tech articles we at MM&FF come up with. Going fast while doing it safely is something that is more often than not overlooked.
While at the Fun Ford Weekend event this past weekend at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, Virginia, I saw something that, as a Mustang enthusiasts and a drag racer, troubled me greatly. What I saw was a disregard by a True Street driver for safety regulations both on and off of the racing surface. After ripping off a pair of 9-second elapsed times (which was impressive I might add), the FFW officials went to said driver before his third and final pass and asked him to politely pull off of the return road (where the cars were lined up) and off to the side because he didn’t have the required safety equipment to run into the 9-second zone. Having earned my NHRA Super Gas license just a short time ago (9.99 or quicker in the quarter-mile), I know first hand that in a door car, a window net, gloves, and fire retardant pants and a jacket are needed (see NHRA website for specifics). This driver had the helmet and fire jacket, but no gloves or fire pants, and a window net that he didn’t use. When he was told by the FFW officials that he could not make his third run, the driver proceeded to do a burnout right there on the return road, with the FFW official in front of the car, before speeding off into the pit area.
They say that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, and I have to ashamedly admit I have done a few stupid things at the track myself. At Maple Grove Raceway way back when, I was running my Super Comp car, and took a first round loss thanks to a great -.001 reaction time. Being a bit perturbed, I got my time slip, laid into the throttle a bit more than I should have, and got back to my trailer in record time. Waiting for me (and having seen the entire thing) was my Dad, who proceeded to rip me up one side and down the other for not obeying the posted pit road speed limit. The end result? If I wanted to stay behind the wheel of the dragster (and not get killed by the old man), I had to NEVER do what I did ever again. Have I since? Heck no! I like racing my dragster! The point of the story is I was lucky. I could have punted a pedestrian or not seen a car pulling out of their pit stall and seriously wrecked not only my car, but his or hers as well.
While accidents at the track are not all that common, and fatal ones like Scott Kalitta’s are even less so, paying attention to common-sense things both on and off the track goes a long way into helping prevent injuries to both yourself and any spectators you may encounter. Keep in mind folks that when something goes wrong at the track, and you are pointing straight at the guardrail, the worst feeling in the world is knowing what’s coming. When the wreck stops and your heart is broken because your car just got torn up, remember that you are feeling that way because the safety equipment that you may have complained about putting on just saved your hind end. All of the mandated equipment is there for your safety and to keep you from getting seriously hurt in the event of an accident. While cruising through the pits, always keep on the lookout for people walking, cars pulling out of trailers, and errant (and inattentive) concession stand workers looking to blast out of the track at high speed (long story for another time). While tragic incidents like what happened at Englishtown sometimes occur, any time you can protect yourself while in the car, I highly suggest you do so. You never know what could happen.
Now if we could only have our buddy Scott Kalitta back…