By Becky White
Editor/Publisher of Quick Times Racing News for 25 Years & Blog Author
for 10 Years
For all the years I have been in drag racing, there have been many
track operators…meaning track owners and the people who operated the
tracks for them…who have reminded me of General George Custer. Just in
case you don't remember your history lessons, he was the General who
would not listen to anyone because he thought he knew more than
Because of that, he led his troops into the Battle of the Little Big
Horn where every single person in his troop was killed including
himself. Track owner/operators who refuse to listen to anyone and
everyone and learn anything are signing their own death warrant…we
have seen this so many times over the years, we wonder how they can be
so blind as to do the very same thing other 'out of business' track
owner/operators have done to cause their own demise.
They think they know it all and will listen to no one, even when
people try to reason with them over the issues of track safety. I was
out of drag racing for ten years…what have I learned since becoming
involved again last year? Things are the same. Nothing has changed. I
want to explain 'top end' safety to track owner/operators who seem to
think the only thing they have to update and take care of is the
starting line and 660/1320 feet racing surface.
They think they can keep up with the times by shaving the track,
widening the track, prepping the track and even re-paving the track
and that is all they need to do. Of course, some do nothing! 100% of
ALL fast racers will tell you, "The top end is even MORE important
than the starting line AND the track surface!"
I had not seen Pro Mod cars since 2003 until September last year. I
knew they were quicker and faster but you have to see it to believe
it. I have only attended two Pro Mod races since but it doesn't take a
rocket scientist to realize something is wrong! I LOVE this job! I can
STILL call nearly every racer I have ever known and get more
information than most anyone else in this sport.
My reputation precedes me by over 35 years and even though I haven't
been there very often for racers since '03, they are still confiding
in me about their concerns and issues. With Pro Mod drivers, top end
safety came up more than any other problem. I went to MANY Quick 8,
Quick 16, Top Sportsman and Pro Mod races over the years as Pro Mod
grew…from some guy trying to go fast enough to get an extra 50 bucks
for Low ET or Top Speed at their local (southeastern) eighth mile
track in the '80s to the single, most popular group ever in the
history of this sport.
I was one of the original instigators of Pro Mod racing. These guys
are flying. The fact they are running over 200 mph in 660 feet…not to
mention the quarter mile…is mind boggling. I was always on the
starting line and able to watch track prep and clean up as well as the
race cars and drivers. As always, the concentration is from
approximately 60 to 100 feet behind the Christmas tree to the top end
The area beyond those traps is a no man's land! Why aren't track
operators concentrating more on their tracks from the top end traps to
the end of their pavement and even beyond? Why don't they realize THAT
part of the track is AS important, if not MORE SO, than the FIRST 660
feet? Track owner/operators must feel since the cars are 'racing' only
on the 'racing' surface that is all they have to keep updated. That is
Just because a racer shuts his car down at 660 or 1320 feet it doesn't
mean he isn't STILL racing! They are no longer under power, true, but
they are going the fastest at top end and in the shut down area of any
time they are on the track! Not only that, these modern cars are more
violent on top end than at any other time as Todd Tutterow said. Yes,
it takes a lot more power to power 'up' than it does to power 'down'
but, in most cases, they are powering down for an even longer
These cars do NOT and CANNOT stop when they get to those top end
lights! They need their shut down area to be just as smooth, just as
wide and just as sticky as the racing surface they were just on. Todd
also said, "It doesn't matter HOW long the shut down area is when you
are barrel rolling or flipping end over end!" Most others agree. But
it does matter if you're still on your tires. Just the fact most
tracks change so drastically at the top end lights is enough to cause
Cars are at the height of their speed and a parachute or two can only
do so much! The science of these cars continues to advance so much
quicker than track surfaces but, of course, they always have. Why is
that SO hard for some track owner/operators to understand? I will
never forget, in 1989 at River Cities Raceway Park, a popular small
track in Ashland, KY, Rob Vandergriff and Norm Wizner were matching
One racing gas company reps was talking to Rob telling him how much
more power his gas would give Rob's car. Rob said, "Man, you don't
understand. I don't NEED any more power! I can't get the power I
already have to the track! If I could just get the power I have now to
the pavement I could run faster anyway…even without a better fuel!"
There is the gist of this editorial. What Rob said, nearly 25 years
ago, was so profound it is 100 times more true now than it was then!
Chassis builders and most racers concentrate on safety and how to get
more power to the pavement. Speeds and ETs have skyrocketed. Track
safety, in most instances, has not! Tracks have not gotten any longer.
Most smaller tracks have NO top end lighting…where it is needed most.
If someone has a top end accident, safety crews and EMTs have to work
by vehicle lights in most incidents to do what they have to do and
sometimes, that may even include saving a life! Race cars don't have
lights…they NEED as much lighting in the shut down area as they do
anywhere else, maybe more.
Tracks are not getting any longer and most aren't getting any better
in the shut down area either. If a track has plenty of shut down
length, they don't need sand traps and safety nets, but in most cases,
shut down has not been expanded and needs those things. The reason
racing had to go eighth mile in the early years was because cars got
too fast for the shut down and a fifth of a mile was not short
You forget…in the '60s, they weren't running nearly as fast as our
cars today…on these same tracks! This is also the reason Pro Stock
cars were taken out of championship points competition in the early
'80s. Yet, these ultra fast racers today are expected to race on
tracks their counterparts would not…and thought they could not…race on
40 years ago!
The reason? They didn't feel safe! Cars need assistance to stop just
like they need assistance to start…ie: water box, burnout area. They
just need a lot more of it. A car is 100% more erratic and more
violent on top end because they're at the fastest they will ever be on
any part of the track! How many accidents do you ever hear of on the
racing side of 660 feet? I don't have any figures on that but almost
ALL accidents happen on or near top end.
What are some of the causes? First and most important…besides the fact
shut down areas seldom get any upgrades, is the fact bracket racers
race on these surfaces on a weekly basis. The problem? What do many
bracket racers do when they go through the lights? The first thing is
slam on their brakes.
What happens when hundreds of cars slam on their brakes on hot asphalt
near the same spot? A dip eventually occurs. Check out the top end at
your local track and look closely…many look like those proverbial old
'washboard' dirt roads on which many of us grew up learning to drive!
Not only that, after a track has been paved and the pavement stops at
the finish line, there is already a dip caused by the pavement ending
Even though the paver smoothes and tapers it down, it is STILL a dip.
Another problem is most tracks were not 'stabilized' when they were
built so when there is a lot of rain, water gets under the asphalt or
concrete. When it has nowhere else to go, it pushes up through that
surface. In the winter, the water freezes and pushes the ground and
the pavement up.
When the ground warms up, it settles back down but the cracks never go
away. Every time the ground rises and settles, it settles differently
due to the changes in temperatures from day to day. The old pavement
becomes more and more cracked and porous allowing water to settle down
in those cracks. The water gets pulled back up by force…making it as
slick as an oiled baby's behind!
But how many top ends ever get sprayed with VHT? I have never seen a
top end get sprayed, have you? VHT is not only an adhesive used for
traction, did you know it is also a concrete and asphalt sealer? Even
though it not a stopgap answer for an unstabilized track, it is better
Can you imagine hitting a slick surface at 200 mph? You can if you're
a Pro Mod driver! That is the first experience ALL drivers have when
he or she goes through those top end lights! They can't even utilize
their own braking system, it is too dangerous…just using the brakes
can cause an accident….sometimes deadly, as we all know.
I am not down on all track operators. Many have, over the years, done
all they possibly could to make their tracks and even their top ends
safe; others…just what they thought they HAD to do (which, in many
cases is nothing). Many have made leaps and bounds trying to keep
their tracks in good condition to be able to handle the power in these
They have concreted their starting lines; most tracks where the
quicker cars run have been paved and re-paved. But most have only been
paved to the 660 or 1320 foot mark…the point where the cars are going
the fastest they ever go! After that, these drivers find themselves in
'never never land.' They run nearly 200 mph on a nice smooth, groomed
surface into infinity.
How many of you remember Bristol Dragway in the old days? It got so
bad when IHRA would have their Saturday night national event show,
once cars got to about 1,000 feet, they were all over the track and
many accidents occurred! Funny car and top fuel drivers threatened to
stay away unless something was done about it.
It was as simple as the fact there was natural water coming out of the
mountain under the track…the heat of the sun and speed of the cars
pulled the water back up through the track. It was dangerous! They had
to go under the track and put in a drain to take that water away from
Even after Jeff Byrd became the manager there and remodeled the track,
that had to be done again! Atlanta Dragway was the same way. When Gary
Brown bought it and spent millions remodeling the entire facility,
there were still top end wrecks because of water under the track. He
had to go back under it and drain it, too.
I will never forget at a IHRA national event at Alabama Int'l Dragway
one time, the Pro Stockers looked like 'Seadoos' going down the track
there was so much water flying up behind them! I don't know if
anything was ever done to fix that track. Many (most) tracks have not
When a Pro Mod driver hits that rough, unsealed, damp, possibly slick
asphalt, they can literally skate around as if they had hit a patch of
black ice! Do you have any idea WHY racing insurance is as expensive
as it is? If you can't answer that by now, go back and read this
again, only let it soak in next time.
A word to racers…something you can do to help yourselves be safer on
the tracks you race on…when you go to a track you've never run on
before…go down to the top end and check it out. Even if you have to
make a 'time trial' in your personal truck or car, even a golf cart or
ATV…just drive all the way down that track!
Look to see what is there for your safety. Is there enough shut down
area? If not, do they have a sand 'mountain' or safety nets or lights
if you are racing at night. Judge for yourself…most of you are going
to get a surprise! 'Try' to talk to the track operator about what
he/she needs to do to KEEP you coming back to his track!
We know every drag racer loves what they're doing, if they didn't they
would be bowling or something safer. Every time they get in their race
car, they know they are taking their lives in their hands. They do
this because they love it, but they get hired in to put on a show and
bring in spectators for the tracks…for YOU.
They are busting their butts going quicker and faster and having cars
which not only look like show cars, they become missiles on the track.
For THEIR sake, what kind of mind cannot comprehend the dangers these
racers are putting their lives in for your track and your fans? I know
small track operators are having a rough time now…even some national
event tracks are as well because of this economy.
However, there are NO reasons to short change racers and even fans
when it comes to safety, not to mention short changing yourself. Let
us not make drag racing a sport where spectators pay to come see the
wrecks! We have never had that reputation, let us not sink to those
Thanks to: Warren and Arlene Johnson, Todd Tutterow, Charles Carpenter
and Marshall Oldham for their help with this very important issue.
I am now, I always have been, I will always be drag racing's 'most
dedicated fan!' Becky White