Site of NHRA Fall Nationals making safety changes

Updated: August 27, 2008, 11:37 AM ET
Associated Press

Texas Motorplex, the site of next month's NHRA Fall Nationals, is in the midst of several new safety initiatives, including extending the run-off area beyond the finish line.

The changes come in the wake of the fiery crash in June at Englishtown, N.J., in which drag racer Scott Kalitta was killed.

"Even though we have one of the longest tracks and sand trap areas in the sport, we decided after the Scott Kalitta accident that we should extend our safety area as much as possible just because you never know," said Billy Meyer, owner and president of the Texas track.

"Right now, our sand trap is about the length of a football field, and we are extending it so it will be three times as long," he added. "The walls are going to not only be taller than the height on the track, but the walls also are going to continue to narrow down to be able to funnel a car into a safe zone eliminating the chance that a car hits anything."

Meyer, a former drag racer, said Kalitta's accident taught everyone in drag racing a lesson.

"Even though we have not had a runaway car in a long, long time in this sport, it can happen," he said. "There is no reason to spare any expense if it can spare another racer's life. Even if the chances are one in a million that it could happen again, we can't take that chance."

John Force, who broke both legs and also damaged both his arms and hands in a 300-mph crash with Kenny Bernstein at Texas Motorplex in 2007, consulted with Meyer on the changes.

"NHRA is aggressively working on safety improvements, but I've also been talking to Force about some of the things we can do to increase safety at the track," Meyer said. "Force's team has been at the forefront of the quest to make the sport more safe. I spent a lot of time racing cars in my life and I know that we always need to be working on improvements."

Force, a 14-time Funny Car champion, and his Force Racing Team started The Eric Medlen Project after Medlen, who drove for him, was killed in March 2007 in a testing accident in Gainesville, Fla. The project's aim is to enhance race car safety in all forms of motorsports through heightened research and development.

"I'm excited Billy Meyer is making additional safety improvements to the Texas Motorplex," Force said. "As a former Funny Car driver, Billy has always wanted what is best for the racers. He has always been an innovator and I think the changes he is making to his track, especially the longer sand pit, will give drivers a better chance to avoid serious injuries."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press