Report: Longtime engineer Chip Bolin out at Roush Fenway Racing

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In what some may consider a big surprise – or perhaps a sign of several more departures to come – long time engineer Chip Bolin has been released by Roush Fenway Racing.

According to Motorsport.com, the departure of Bolin, 40, from RFR was confirmed Thursday by the company.

Bolin’s departure could be a signal that an even greater shakeup may be brewing, particularly involving drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, who are both in the final year of their respective contracts with RFR.

Bolin had been with RFR for 16 years, coming to the organization in 1998 after serving an internship with Andy Petree Racing. He joined the company at about the same time as Bob Osborne, who eventually went on to be Edwards’ crew chief.

Together, Bolin and Osborne formed what would become the engineering department for what was then Roush Racing.

Although he was involved with most Roush teams at one point or other in his career, Bolin is known most for his time with Matt Kenseth’s team, first as team engineer beginning in 1999.

Kenseth won the final Winston Cup championship in 2003 with Robbie Reiser as crew chief and Bolin as chief engineer.

In 2007, Bolin became Kenseth’s crew chief when now-RFR general manager Reiser was promoted into the team’s front office.

Although Ford has won four of the first 11 Sprint Cup races this season, three of those wins have come from rival Team Penske. Edwards is the only driver of the three Sprint Cup pilots at RFR to have won a race this season, having done so at Bristol in March.

Edwards is currently ranked fifth in the Sprint Cup standings, while Biffle is ninth. Both drivers are in the final year of their current contracts with RFR.

Biffle has stated several times that he plans on returning to the RFR camp, but there’s still some uncertainty that will happen.

As for Edwards, he is not saying one way or other whether he’ll come back to RFR or not. Whether Edwards stays or leaves could have a major impact upon whether Biffle also stays or goes – and if he does go, will his options be limited if Edwards also exits the organization at season’s end.

The third RFR driver in the Sprint Cup Series, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is currently ranked 25th and has just one top-five finish this season.

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(Updated) NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations immediately, cancels NHRA Summernationals

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

UPDATE: Hatcher reached out again to NBC Sports later Wednesday afternoon with an addendum that could be promising for race fans in other markets: “Upon hearing the news about the Englishtown track, we’ve received a significant level of interest from other track operators about hosting a national event in 2018.  We’re not sure if this is possible for 2018, but we’re definitely looking into it, if not for 2018, then perhaps for 2019.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”