MONDAY TESTING AFTER GATORS

The devil is in the details.

Many NHRA POWERade teams decided to stick around at Gainesville Raceway following the 38th annual ACDelco Gatornationals, to get some testing under their belts without having to pack up the trailers and head to other circuits.

After all, the Gatornationals had yielded some record-breaking speeds and times over the past weekend.  At the same time, there had been some fairly violent wall smacks, particularly in eliminations, that affected the outcome of races on Sunday.

The day began in a fairly benign fashion with most drivers and riders taking the right lane – which had yielded more wins than the left on Sunday – as they tried out different combinations in anticipation of the next race at Houston in two weeks.

One of the highly anticipated appearances was Rod Fuller’s Top Fuel Hadman chassis with the monostrut wing support at the rear.  This was no easy swap.  The brand new chassis – dressed in lovely primer gray – has been sitting in the David Powers Motorsports truck through the first three races. 

The frame is brand new and it’s got the mandated SFI tube thickness – achieved by having a tube within a tube – to placate the NHRA.  “We’ve got to get the balance figured out before it’ll feel stable enough to race,” said Rob Flynn, tuner on Hot Rod’s rail.

Thus far the team has done two runs – and a half pass here at Gainesville – which is teaching them about the wing’s tendencies under pressure.  “It bolts up pretty much the same,” Flynn said, “and we’ve beefed up the chassis to handle it.  We’ve done two runs as equipped and have a pass at 4.49 that we’re pretty happy with.”

At the same time, with Fuller leading the point standings and the Countdown to the Championship sticking in everyone’s mind, Flynn is not about to pull the car that has given Fuller and the DPM team such success.  “It’s just not a good time to change cars.”

According to Lee Beard, who is technical director for both Fuller’s and Whit Bazemore’s DPM team cars said they are looking at this type of wing for a couple of reasons.  In the event of a rear tire failure, the wing gets ripped up pretty badly and makes it even more difficult for the driver to stop the car. 

“We’re looking at this thing for safety reasons,” Beard said, “particularly in the event of a rear tire implosion.”  The monostrut is secured with screws at the front and has a spline at the rear, so that, in the event of tire failure, the wing is held in place by opening on the rear, which is held together in a spline. 

The upper rail arms on the Hadman chassis have been strengthened to handle the heavier monostrut with a tube inside a tube, per SFI suggestions.  Beard thinks it’ll all work, but there’s a lot more testing to be done before this particular package will be ready to paint and race.

The second rationale to fit the monostrut is commercial: it offers another billboard for the Top Fuel rail, which has only the monocoque available for signage.  The Top Fuel class has difficulty in signage placement because of the minimal painted surfaces.

On the track, most drivers and riders were making half-passes or taking their machines to the 1000-foot mark before shutting down.  Bazemore, trying out new Bill Miller Engineering (BME) injectors, hit a 4.88 around 11:30 in the morning.

There were a few other passes before noon, but then, as the clock struck 12, Eric Medlen came to the left lane in a car that had several modifications to it, similar to the package that teammate Robert Hight has been racing since the season began at Pomona in February.  He was using last year’s bodywork with Castrol GTX signage as he moved into place for a pass at the Gainesville quarter-mile.

Once Medlen got the green light, the car began (lightly) fishtailing but Medlen chose to keep working with it.  Apparently, the right rear tire exploded about the 1000-foot mark and things took a turn for the worse.  Medlen hit the retaining wall and the car careened to the opposite side of the racetrack.  He had two powerful hits and came to rest in the shutdown area.

The track’s safety personnel were quickly on-site and a call was made immediately for a helicopter to take him to hospital.  Medlen, who lost consciousness in the crash, was carefully secured to a board and tethered, as medical personnel secured his airway and pronounced that he was breathing on his own. 

The helicopter arrived at about 12:35 and Medlen was airlifted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where he was listed in critical but stable condition at mid-afternoon.

Doctors expect it to be at least two-three days before they have a better idea of his condition, which is fairly standard for accidents of this nature. 

The track was shut down for nearly an hour to attend to Medlen and to clean up the debris.  After that, few drivers took full quarter-mile passes and Beard decided that point leader Fuller would only make a half-pass at about 1:30 in the afternoon.  As it was, the Las Vegas resident shut off at half-distance but fishtailed the balance of the way down the left lane.

One crewchief had an interesting perspective on the whole thing.  The track, which had put quite a few drivers into the wall during the Gatornationals, was very different from the one on which they raced for three days.  There appeared to be a lot more glue on the surface, he mused.  His driver, who had already run a full pass, had Goodyear tires that “looked like crap,” according to this veteran tuner, where they “had looked great all weekend long.”

The Don Schumacher MTS Funny Car team, for driver Jack Beckman, had hoped to test at Gainesville, but with the hold-up and the long line of competitors waiting for their opportunities, they packed up and headed for Valdosta, Georgia, where they’ll spend two days working to put Fast Jack back on the winning trail.
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