THE ACE BELIEVES LESS TRACTION IS A START TO FIXING NITRO
Matt Hagan didn't mince words.
The burly Funny Car driver expressed his disdain for the NHRA's new policy of putting less traction compound in the latter part of the drag strip.
Hagan took his message to Twitter by posting, "I'll say it cause no one else will say it. @NHRA should be embarrassed for the show we put on in charlotte. I'm very sorry to all our fans that payed (sic) to see that. @NHRA has changed track prep to slow the cars down and the end result is tire smoke, explosions and a poor show!!"
Another burly Funny Car driver, albeit a retired one, has been saying long before NHRA made the mandate to change its 75/25 (alcohol/glue mix) to 65/35, it was what the sanctioning body needed to do in the interests of safety and cost to the teams.
Ed "The Ace" McCulloch has long been an advocate of one should race the track they have, and not the one they want. He's also witnessed many of today's stars wrestle out of control exploded race cars which are covering the 1,000-foot race course quicker and faster than anyone ever dreamed they would.
McCulloch, who retired from drag racing at the end of the 2010 season, plied his trade from behind the wheel and outside of the car for almost five decades. He was there at the introduction of the Funny Car era, won Indy six-times and then transitioned into the role of a successful tuner.
“I don’t know that there’s anything going to fix fuel racing in its entirety,” McCulloch said. “If the table was turned and I was out there racing, and I was a crew chief, I probably wouldn’t want to hear any part of it. I’m sort of a creature of not liking change, but the situation being what it is out there and the alternatives to fix the cars or to help with the catastrophic explosions that we’ve seen this year, and for a while.
“I’ve given some thought, I’ve talked to a few people, there’s some give and take in this but one of the biggest things, when you talk about change and you talk about doing something to limit this or limit that, or whatever, you’re talking about costing the team owners a lot of money to change things. And I don’t think our sport is in a position that the team owners need to be spending any more money. So how do we go about fixing this without it costing a tremendous amount of money?”
Initially, McCulloch believed the best solution was to convince Goodyear to make a tire which would be challenging to stick to the track. However, with the NHRA's decision to use traction, or lack thereof, to slow the cars down, the result is the same.
As he sees it, limiting the traction is the simplest way to put the genie back in the bottle. In some ways, he believes, the door could be open for innovation.
“They can run whatever they want to run; you can run the blower, you can run the fuel pump, you run the mags, percentage, whatever the rules are in place now to do,” McCulloch explained. “You really can do whatever you choose to do, and that’s the thing that I like about this idea is they’re not coming to you and saying you have to change, you’ve got to put one mag in it or you’ve got to limit the fuel pump, or all these different things that have come about. If these cars had less traction, then it would be up to the teams, the crew chiefs, to figure out how to get the car down the race track.
“NHRA has done a tremendous job at preparing these race tracks, getting them in the condition that they are to run those things down at the speeds and e.t.’s that they run.
"With the lack of traction, the guys are going to have to back up to go down the race track. Now when you back it up, they’re going to say, ‘We’re out there, the race track’s junk. We’re spinning the tire and we’re blowing them up’. Well, don’t spin the tire. Back them up to where they don’t spin the tire. That’s a way of slowing the cars down.”
McCulloch believes the Las Vegas four-wide event, the first with the reduced spray, provided a glimpse of what was to come.
“Friday, the qualifying show was terrible," McCulloch said. "Saturday maybe it’s a little bit better. By Sunday, the guys are going down the race track. They might not be going down the race track at a record pace, but they’re going down the race track better than they had been. That’s just telling me that they’ve learned that they can’t push it, they’ve got to back up, and come Sunday the guy that goes down the race track is probably going to win the round.
“That’s my thought is the traction issue, if you took some of the traction away from them, that would be a means of forcing the guys into backing it up to where they will go down the race track. And when they back it up, I think you’re going to see less damage."
McCulloch understands there are some who will file him away as an armchair quarterback, but he said sitting on the sidelines for some time has enabled him to view the big picture. He doesn't want to see anyone get hurt when it can be avoided, nor does he want to see a cash-strapped nitro racing get any more outrageously expensive than it already is.
"It’s easy for me to sit here, having retired at the end of 2010 and not been back, and not gone through the struggles that the guys are going through now," McCulloch said. "They make more power, they’re going faster, they spend more money. Everything. It’s the snowball and it’s just continuing to roll. I think if you set anybody down and said, ‘You know how far will this snowball go?"
"They’d shrug their shoulders. There has to be at some point, there has to be a change or a fix or something to make this feasible to be able to go out and compete and continue our sport as it is. When Kenny Bernstein ran the first 300 mile per hour run, that was a huge, huge milestone. Now it’s an advertising tool. Come out and see the 300 mile an hour cars.
"Well they went 300, then they went 310, then they went 320 and then they go 330 and now they’re pushing 340. Well now they’re advertising they’re 330 mph race cars. We’re all in this together."
McCulloch admits his time away from the sport has enabled him to see the big picture; a big picture he isn't sure he'd see if he was still in the trenches.
"I know that if somebody was telling me when I was a crew chief that we need to prep the track less, or Goodyear needs to make a tire with less traction, I’d say, ‘You’re crazy’."
"But somebody has to do something. I hate to have people tell me what to do. That’s just my nature and I never have liked that. But when you come in and you say, ‘Okay you can only do this. X blower is all you can do’, or, ‘We’re going to take one magneto away’. I mean that’s a sanctioning body decision that frankly for the most part, there’s nobody in the sanctioning body in my opinion, that has the ability to know what the results are of some of these things that they would come up with.
"If you’ve got less traction, you don’t have to go out and buy anything different. All you have to do is go to your tuneup book, go in there the way you run this thing on a really bad race track before, back up to that. And that’s just evolution. That’s how it’s all evolved to where it is now.
"There’s still the issues that we have, the mechanical issues that we have that I don’t know that there’s a fix for that."