Track speed marks fall as Route 66 Raceway becomes one of fastest on NHRA circuit


When Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., opened in 1998, it was considered state of the art, the first National Hot Rod Association racetrack with surround, bowl-like seating.

During this past weekend’s record-breaking O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the suburban Chicago track became one of the fastest racetracks on the NHRA circuit.

Numerous track speed records were set over the four-day event. Most notable were four Funny Car drivers that covered the 1,000-foot racing surface in under four seconds for the first time in track history: Ron Capps (3.988 seconds at 320.28 mph), along with Bob Tasca III (3.988, 316.97), Jack Beckman (3.983, 319.52) and Del Worsham (3.999, 318.99).

Other notable achievements included:

* 15-time Funny Car champ John Force posted his best Route 66 career time of 4.010 seconds at 316.67 mph.

* Morgan Lucas set a track record for Top Fuel qualifying on Saturday (3.737 seconds at 322.19 mph)

* Steve Edwards set a track record in Pro Stock at 6.542 seconds at 210.64 mph, his 10th No. 1 qualifying position of the season.

Rain was an impediment at times during the weekend, but not an insurmountable obstacle as hometown favorite Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won their respective categories in Sunday’s final eliminations.

Of particular note was Schumacher’s winning finish, the 72nd NHRA event win of his career. Rather than wait to see if the track would have a post-race fireworks display, Schumacher wound up giving an impromptu one of his own.

No sooner did he cross the finish line to win the Top Fuel event, the 8,000-horsepower motor in Schumacher’s dragster exploded in a fiery blast. While neither he nor anyone else was injured, it provided one of those “ooh, aah” moments that put a memorable cap on the event.

“It’s always great to have a hometown win here in Chicago,” said Schumacher of his fourth career win at Route 66, and which also put him back atop the Mello Yello Series Top Fuel season standings.

Schumacher was especially concerned that Millican was so hungry for his first career Top Fuel win.

“When you look back in Top Fuel history, whenever anybody gets their first win, it’s against me,” Schumacher said. “But I told myself today that this is not going to be an ongoing trait. We’re going to stop it right here and now. I don’t care when or if Clay wins a race, but just not today. Not here at my home track.”

The NHRA continues this coming weekend with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, from July 4-7.

Position of F1 start lights altered to compensate for safety halo

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The position of start lights will be altered on Formula One tracks this season, in a bid to ensure the drivers’ line of vision is not impeded by the controversial halo protection device.

The halo is a titanium structure introduced this year in a bid to ramp up driver safety, forming a ring around the cockpit top. It is designed to protect the drivers’ head from loose debris and offer better safety during eventual collisions.

Although drivers largely understand the need for it, very few like it. They are worried it impedes visibility, it looks ugly and also that fans will no longer be able to identify a driver properly from his race helmet. Drivers also take longer to climb in and out of their cars.

Formula One’s governing body has addressed concerns and asked every circuit “to make the lights at a standard height above the track,” FIA race director Charlie Whiting said.

“Pole position seems to be the worst case scenario with the halo,” Whiting added at the season-opening Australian GP. “Maybe the driver can’t quite see the lights, or see only half of them, and he might have to move his head too much.”

The new start lights were positioned lower for Friday’s first two practice sessions at Albert Park. Drivers were also allowed the rare chance to rehearse grid starts at the end of both sessions.

“We haven’t normally allowed practice starts on the grid here because it’s quite a tight timetable,” Whiting said. “What I thought would be a good idea was to give the driver sight of those lights, rather than for the first time on Sunday evening.”

A repeat set of lights has been moved from its usual position halfway up the grid to a more convenient position to the left.

“Those repeat lights were normally halfway up the grid, and they were fitted round about 2009, when the rear wings became higher on the cars,” Whiting said. “But now the wings have been lowered, there’s no need for those halfway up the grid.”