DAVE DENSMORE SPEAKS (COMMENTARY): - THINGS AREN'T ALWAYS AS THEY SEEM
While the High Sheriffs get low marks for diplomacy, tact and transparency, in my opinion their response to the Larry Dixon situation probably was justified.
As much as I admire Larry as both a person and a racer, in the case of the two-seat Top Fuel dragster, I think the three-time world champion may have let his enthusiasm override his judgment. In an earlier interview with Competition Plus publisher Bobby Bennett, Dixon was very candid in outlining his view of the events and circumstances that led to the indefinite suspension of his competition license, going so far as to admit that he was embarrassed by the whole affair.
The NHRA, on the other hand, apparently has taken a vow of silence, declining to explain its actions beyond an initial press release. Since we are privy to only one side of the story, it would be easy to pile on -- which was my intent at the outset. After all, the Sheriffs generally make themselves pretty easy prey.
However, things are not always as they seem.
There were a number of issues that led officials to confront Dixon at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, the least of which was not his recent affiliation with the rival IHRA as both a committee member and special events promoter.
Furthermore, while I don’t agree with behaviors that often seem vindictive, the NHRA, as the sport’s law enforcement agency, certainly was justified in calling Dixon out. Clearly, he was in violation of drag racing law, at least as it applies to the NHRA. Not only did his unique exhibition vehicle have an SFI chassis sticker implying NHRA approval, which it did not have, we also know that it was tested at Edgewater Raceway Park, an NHRA sanctioned track outside of Cincinnati, in apparent violation of an NHRA directive.
And while Peter Clifford may indeed have offered up some positive encouragement when Dixon first approached him with the idea of building a tandem dragster, we need to remember that the outgoing NHRA president is not an engineer. Hell, he’s not even a racer.
Fact is, when NHRA Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations Graham Light was approached, he apparently did not share Clifford’s enthusiasm.
While on the surface giving individuals a G-force experience from between the frame rails of a Top Fuel dragster might seem like a good idea, there is an obvious downside. And it’s not just the proposed $10,000-per-run price tag.
Those who’ve been in the sport as long as I have, or as long as Graham has, still recall the incident in 1971 in which Art Arfons’ ”Super Cyclops” jet car, which also was constructed to accommodate a passenger, blew a tire and crashed through a guardwall at Dallas International Motor Speedway, killing Gene Thomas, a 31-year-old sports reporter who was just along for the ride, and two DIMS track workers. RELATED LINK - IN BLACK AND WHITE WITH ONE EYE CLOSED
Although DIMS at the time was operated by the IHRA, the impact of the crash and the three lives lost transcended all emblems and acronyms. The stigma of that single day endured for years.
So, the NHRA’s need to protect itself from potential litigation certainly factored into the Dixon decision especially since the High Sheriffs recently were sued solely because of the presence of a valid NHRA chassis sticker on a car involved in a crash. It mattered not that the car in question was racing on a non-sanctioned track in a non-NHRA event. It’s simply one of curses of Glendora’s level of recognition.
Another thing, how much benefit could the sport really derive from such a vehicle? How many companies could justify a 10 grand investment for a five-second thrill ride? And, after the initial pool of candidates is exhausted, what next?
We know that Top Fuel drivers are subject to intense physicals before they are licensed to compete in the world’s most powerful race cars. What guidelines would assure the safety of passengers in such vehicles? What if such a ride aggravated an existing condition like, say, a herniated disc or heart disease?
Those are questions that must be answered before the NHRA can take any official action on the future of the “passenger car” concept.
In the meantime, the “indefinite” nature of the suspension opens the door to further negotiation between Dixon and the NHRA. Both parties need to take advantage of the opportunity. They’re both better off as friends rather than foes.