Following Kalitta crash, NHRA proposes safety measures

Updated: June 28, 2008, 12:25 AM ET
By Bill Stephens | ESPN.com

The impact at which Scott Kalitta's Funny Car struck several solid objects at the top end of Raceway Park's quarter-mile on June 21 has now touched off major shock waves within the sport of NHRA POWERade drag racing.

With the New Jersey State Police currently conducting a thorough investigation of the high-speed crash which killed Kalitta instantly during qualifying at the track in Englishtown, N.J., the NHRA issued a statement on Friday revealing what its own investigation into the accident had revealed so far and a series of measures it is enacting to both complement the state police investigation and to address key safety areas, particularly in the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories.

In the statement, the sequence of events which the NHRA has determined led to Kalitta's fatal accident was outlined.

"An engine explosion near the end of the run resulted in separating most of the car's body from the chassis. The car's parachutes did not blossom, and the vehicle continued down the right side of the shut down area at a high rate of speed. It went off the top end of the track, up into the right catch net pole, and hit the television camera boom beyond the end of the sand trap before coming to a rest."

Along with securing the services of mechanical engineer and longtime accident reconstruction expert David McCandless to offer analysis on Kalitta's mishap, the NHRA will be taking a close look at five critical elements of its safety regulations regarding vehicle construction and track configuration -- particularly the shutdown area -- to ascertain if changes are needed.

The five elements -- preventing catastrophic engine failures, mandating brake systems capable of slowing a race car from triple-century speeds, more effective parachute mounting and resilient materials, shutdown areas more in tune with the speeds at which modern Top Fuel and Funny Cars travel, and further limiting or reducing those speeds -- will all be examined and evaluated by NHRA officials and a task force comprised of members of the drag racing community. Raceway Park came under fire from several veteran NHRA drivers in the aftermath of the Kalitta tragedy, criticizing what they felt was an inadequate runoff area and the presence of potentially dangerous barriers and solid objects in the path of a race car unable to make a safe stop.

The NHRA is expected to release further information on its ongoing investigation as it becomes available as well as provide periodic updates on the recently announced initiatives.

Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN.com.

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