Schumacher tops Top Fuel at Mile-High Nationals; Wilkerson wins Funny Car
MORRISON, Colo. -- The trimming of the track did nothing to neutralize the nitro cars.
Racing on a 1,000-foot strip for the first time in NHRA history, Top Fuel dragster Tony Schumacher and Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson won their respective classes Sunday during the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
Schumacher didn't need the extra 320 feet of track to get his dragster up to speed, reaching 304 mph in his win over Antron Brown in the finals.
"I couldn't have asked for a better race car. It was flawless," said Schumacher, who picked up his sixth victory of the season.
Following the recent death of Scott Kalitta in a racing accident, the NHRA took an interim step, shortening the length of Top Fuel and Funny Car races from a quarter-mile to 1,000 feet. The change kicked in this weekend at Bandimere Speedway.
It's the first time the NHRA has conducted racing at any distance other than a quarter-mile at a national event since the first one was held in 1955.
"I think as an interim measure it achieved our goals," said Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president of racing operations. "I think we've still produced exciting side-by-side, 300-mph plus, close and competitive racing."
Wilkerson knocked off Jack Beckman in the finals even though both smoked tires midway down the track. He was satisfied with the performance of a new chassis which he brought out this weekend.
"I stepped on the gas and it responded," Wilkerson said. "We had a good car."
Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) won for a third straight week while Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) defended his Bandimere title. Both of those events were run at a quarter-mile.
"In all the years I've been coming out here, I've never really been able to get a handle on [this track] and figure it out," said Anderson, who set track records Saturday in elapsed time (7.02 seconds) and miles per hour (196.30). "We tamed it today. We had a great race."
After the death of Kalitta, the NHRA formed a task force to consider issues such as stopping runaway vehicles at the end of the track and whether current speeds should be limited.
Kalitta died June 21 in Englishtown, N.J., after his Funny Car burst into flames and continued at a high rate of speed through the sand pit at the end of the quarter-mile track, slamming into a retaining barrier.
The drivers praised the NHRA all weekend for stepping up so quickly to address concerns over safety. The nitro car racers may not want to compete at 1,000 feet forever, but cutting the track was the easiest measure to implement right away.
"If they were to change the rules to slow the car down, that would cost a lot of teams out there a lot of money," Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert said. "The cars are still going to make the fire, and the ground shake -- everything they did at 1,320 feet. They're still going to do all the good things everyone wants to see."
A shorter track added another variable the drivers and their crew had to navigate at tricky Bandimere Speedway. They're also handcuffed by the higher altitude, which affects the amount of horsepower the engines can make.
Schumacher and his U.S. Army crew were able to solve the track's complicated equation.
"I'm not saying I'm a gifted driver," Schumacher said. "I'm saying I have a gift of driving the Army car and a gift of having the best team that's ever been assembled. That comes from a group of guys with a great vision and with great goals."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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