The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is a drag racing governing body, which sets rules in drag racing and hosts events all over the United States and Canada. With over 40,000 drivers in its rosters, the NHRA claims to be the largest motorsports sanctioning body in the world.
The association was founded by Wally Parks in 1951 in California to provide a governing body to organize and promote the sport of drag racing. NHRA's first Nationals was held in 1955, in Great Bend, Kansas. (Typical for the era, this race was held on a World War II-constructed training air field.) The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the national event series which comprises 24 races each year, is the premier series in drag racing that brings together the best drag racers from across North America and the world. The NHRA U.S. Nationals are now held at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Clermont, Indiana and are officially called the U.S. Nationals. Winners of national events are awarded a trophy statue in honor of founder Wally Parks. The trophy is commonly referred to by its nickname, a “Wally”.
NHRA Championship Drag Racing Series
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is the Top Division of the NHRA. It consists of four professional classes:
NHRA Sportsman Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series
There are more than a dozen Sportsman Classes. The classes contested at NHRA Divisional races include Snowmobile, Motorcycle Classes, Super Street, Super Gas, Stock Eliminator, Super Stock, Competition Eliminator, Super Comp, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car and Top Alcohol Dragster. All classes except Snowmobile and some Sportsman Motorcycle classes are regularly contested at NHRA National Events.
NHRA promotes mainly the Professional Classes at National Events, however, the majority of its participants are Sportsman Racers. Sportsman Class Racers must be dues-paying members of NHRA before they are allowed to enter and participate in any NHRA event.
Included in these sportsman events are the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, the Summit Racing Equipment Racing Series and the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League.
The NHRA Sportsman Drag Racing Series originally consisted of seven divisions: Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central, West Central, Northwest and Pacific. Starting in 2012, the Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car classes compete in four regions: East, North Central, Central and West.
Sportsman racers with multiple championships
Sportsman racers who have won multiple world championships, with the date of their most recent championship.
Top Alcohol Dragster (TAD)
- 5: Rick Santos (2001), Bill Reichert (2010)
- 4: Blaine Johnson (1993)
- 3: Bill Walsh (1986), Joey Severance (2017)
- 2: Jim Whiteley (2013)
Alcohol Funny Car (AFC)
- 16: Frank Manzo (2013)
- 4: Pat Austin (1991)
- 2: Randy Anderson (1994), Bob Newberry (2005), Jonnie Lindberg (2016)
Competition Eliminator (CE)
- 3: Bill Maropulos (1987), David Rampy (2017)
- 2: Coleman Roddy (1984), Andy Manna, Jr (1999), Dean Carter (2004), Bruno Massel (2009)
Super Stock (SS)
- 5: Peter Biondo (2014)
- 4: Jimmy DeFrank (2012)
- 3: Greg Stanfield (1994)
- 2: Keith Lynch (1983), Jim Boburka (1989), Jeff Taylor (1991), Dan Fletcher (2001)
- 4: Kevin Helms (2015)
- 2: Jim Hughes (1989), Al Corda (1997), Lee Zane (2008), Edmond Richardson (2009), Brad Burton (2012)
The NHRA mandates numerous safety devices and procedures in all competition events.
The five point safety harness is required for all vehicles. It holds the driver secure in the seat, and is equipped with a quick release latch which can be released in less than a second should the driver need to leave the car due to fire or explosions.
Fire suits are required for all drivers in the alcohol and nitromethane fuel classes and the faster gasoline classes. These suits are full body coveralls and made with seven layers of Nomex fabric, which makes them resistant to fire. The required suit includes Nomex gloves, foot socks, and head sock.
Another NASCAR transplant, which was brought into use after the death of Fireball Roberts, was the fuel cell. This bladder is placed into the fuel tanks of non-nitromethane fueled vehicles to prevent fuel leaks, and explosions.
Third is the use of the HANS device. This device limits the movement of the head and neck in the event of an impact.
Fourth is the titanium shield that must be placed behind the head of all Dragsters and Funny Cars down to the Alcohol ranks. This is to prevent any debris from entering the cockpit and becoming a missile hazard to the driver after the death of Top Fuel racer Darrell Russell.
Fifth is the on-board fire extinguishing system that are required. These systems are directed onto the engine itself and are activated instantly when the engine catches fire, reducing the chance for the car to completely catch fire and endanger the driver. The driver also has a manual activation control available. This has been in place on all cars since 1983, when an engine explosion and fire came very close to killing then-Funny Car driver Mike Dunn. All enclosed body cars must have a five-inch circular opening which will accept the nozzle of a fire extinguisher triggered by safety personnel. All vehicles must have a clearly marked fuel pump cut-off switch on a rear panel, accessable to safety crews.
Sixth is the roof escape hatch that is in place on all Funny Cars since the founding of the division in the early 1970s. This device allows Funny Car drivers a safe means of exit during an engine fire rather than falling out of the car between the frame and fiberglass body, and possibly running the risk of being run over by the rear tires.
Seventh are the long bars at the rear end of all cars, also known as "wheelie bars". These long struts prevent the car from flipping over during the launch phase.
To prevent debris, oil, fuel, or coolant from falling on the racing surface, "diapers" under the engine (with a supporting platform) are used to retain liquids and broken parts in the event of a catastrophic engine failure. "Oil-downs" result in substantial fines and the loss of previously earned Championship points (for annual awards). Many cars using the centrifugally-activated "slipper" clutch are now using a retention tube to collect the substantial amount of clutch dust that is produced during each race. The afore mentioned recent practices, along with the longstanding requirement for a Kevlar-style retainer blanket over the supercharger, considerably reduce the potential for injury and fire, in addition to assuring a cleaner and safer racing surface, resulting in a dramatic reduction in race delays for track clean-up.
The rear tires of the car, which are called slicks due to the fact that there is no tread on them, are specified with safety considerations in mind. These tires are made from a much harder compound than in previous years so that the tire is resistant to disintegration. This also came about after the death of Russell. The tires are not allowed to be inflated under 7 pounds per square inch (48 kPa) for any race at any time.
All cars capable of attaining 150 miles per hour require braking parachutes. A safety requirement on all Drag cars running 9.99 and quicker in the 1/4 mile is the fireproof engine blanket which surrounds the engine block and contains debris in case of an engine explosion. NHRA rules call for a monetary, points, and time penalty if the car leaks oil during the run. During qualifying, the offending team loses its elapsed time and speed from the run; during a race, the penalty is loss of lane choice unless both teams in the ensuing race committed the violation.
In the wake of Eric Medlen's 2007 death, the roll bars in a Funny Car must be padded. They are padded with thick insulation and coated with several layers of Nomex to prevent the padding from catching fire during an engine explosion.
Another facility safety feature is the large sand pit at the end of the track past an area of the track known as the "shutdown area", also known as a "sand trap". This 40-foot-long (12 m) sand pit has been placed to slow or stop a car. In the wake of Scott Kalitta's death at Englishtown, NJ in 2008, the sand traps have been made longer and deeper, going from three feet deep to six feet deep and from 40 feet (12 m) long to 80 feet (24 m) long. Anchors for any arresting netting must be buried underground with no obstructing posts.
Some of the newest safety features deal with the tracks themselves. In the wake of Kalitta's death, there are now heavily padded retaining walls at the end of the sand traps. These walls are able to withstand the impact of a vehicle traveling at well over the usual speed of any division within the NHRA's professional categories. These retaining walls take the place of the old rubber polymer safety nets that were once held up with concrete posts.
Another safety modification was a direct result of Kalitta's death. The NHRA began installing a sensor that constantly checks the car's engine, and should the car backfire at any time during the race, or if the burst panel is blown out by an engine explosion, the fuel pump shuts off and the parachutes are deployed automatically. Although several drivers in the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions have stated their dislike for the new sensor, they do admit that it should cut down on any fatal crashes similar to Kalitta's. This device was developed by Force, Kenny Bernstein, and Tony Schumacher, along with NHRA racing development, and NHRA track safety. It was implemented at the start of the 2009 season. The sensor is used only in the Funny Car and Top Fuel divisions. Pro Stock doesn't use nitromethane or superchargers in their engines and this presents a much reduced risk of the massive explosions that can be seen in the nitromethane-fueled cars—and often at their peak speeds.
Prior to the late 1980s, fans could station themselves up to the guardrails so they could be closer to the action. However, in the wake of several rather dramatic accidents on track, where spectators have been injured or killed, fans are no longer allowed within 75 feet (23 m) of the guardrail.
One of the newest safety requirements came after a near fatal crash at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, when John Force's car experienced a severe case of tire shake which, coupled with the release of his parachutes, ripped his car cleanly in two directly behind the engine. This frame failure exposed him to severe injury with no body or frame in front of his feet, as the severely damaged vehicle ground to a halt. The rules now prevent the use of hardened chrome moly tubing in the framework construction of any Top Fuel or Funny Car.
The track length for nitromethane-powered vehicles (funny cars and fuel dragsters) has been reduced to 1,000 feet, to reduce the likelihood and severity of blower and engine explosions and fires at or above 200 miles per hour. All other classes continue to race a full quarter mile which has been the distance established by the NHRA in the 1950s.
The 2010 season brought a new safety device to Top Fuel classes. Should the driver be rendered unable to perform the normal shutdown sequence at the conclusion of a run, a pair of redundant transmitters, placed 400 feet (120 m) and 600 feet (180 m) past the finish line, will signal an on-board receiver to automatically shut off ignition power and fuel to the engine and deploy the parachutes. The transmitters are designed and placed so as to avoid inadvertent triggering of the automated shutoffs. These transmitters and the receivers that are placed on all cars were designed by NHRA's Track Safety Committee and constructed by Electrimotion, and are a direct result of Kalitta's death.
Within the safety requirements, there is also a full crew of safety personnel, called the Safety Safari, whose job is to attend to any fires, clean up the track of debris after an accident on the track, and attend to the drivers prior to the arrival of any medical personnel. The Safety Safari has been in place since the late 1960s, after a rash of on track accidents caused several promising drivers to retire early. Since that time the chance of fatal injuries has been decreased but not eliminated. There is also a full staff of EMTs on hand at any event on the schedule at any given time. These EMTs are usually from the city or county the track is located in, and are compensated by the NHRA for their time and efforts. Aeromedical services are also on hand at the track for airlifting severely injured persons to local hospitals or trauma centers if necessary.
The original 'Drag Safari' began their tour across America in 1954. Included were four original members: Bud Coons, Bud Evans, Eric Rickman and Chic Cannon.
Although there are several safety procedures in place to prevent fatal accidents, no amount of safety can completely prevent fatalities on the track.
|"Sneaky" Pete Robinson||Auto Club Raceway at Pomona||1971|
|John Hagen||Brainerd International Raceway||1983|
|Lee Shepherd||Ardmore, Oklahoma||1985|
|Blaine Johnson||Indianapolis Raceway Park||1996|
|Elmer Trett||Indianapolis Raceway Park||1996|
|Carrie Jo Neal||Sears Point International Raceway||1997|
|Darrell Russell||Gateway International Raceway||2004|
|Shelly Howard||Tulsa, Oklahoma||2005|
|Eric Medlen||Gainesville Raceway||2007|
|John Shoemaker||Famoso Raceway||2008|
|Scott Kalitta||Englishtown, NJ||2008|
|Neal Parker||Englishtown, NJ||2010|
|Mark Niver||Pacific Raceways||2010|