Is it time NHRA returns to quarter-mile racing for Top Fuel, Funny Car?


In less than a month at the helm, new NHRA president Peter Clifford has made a number of moves to improve the sanctioning body’s footprint in the motorsports world.

He hired veteran sports journalist Terry Blount as Vice President of Communications, cut ties one year early on the NHRA’s deal with ESPN, and then signed a promising long-term deal with Fox Sports and Fox Sports 1 to televise its races beginning next season.

Thus far, almost everything Clifford has done since succeeding the retired Tom Compton has been golden, and I get the sense that there is a lot more good still to come.

That’s not a knock against Compton, whatsoever. He did his best under oftentimes challenging conditions, particularly on the TV side with frequent inconsistency and oftentimes inconvenient scheduled airing times.

And I can pretty much guarantee that the genesis of many of the recent promising changes under Clifford’s administration actually began under Compton’s watch.

This is a great time and opportunity for Clifford to take the NHRA to the next level – or at the very least, return it to some of its greatest glory days of the 1980s and 1990s.

One of the biggest challenges Clifford and the NHRA face is an increased clamor among fans and competitors to return to the former official length of 1,320 feet – a true quarter-mile, the length the sport was built upon.

To put it in other terms, going from 1,320 feet to 1,000 feet would be like the NFL reducing its 100-yard playing field by 25 yards.

Admittedly, talk of any effort to bring back 1,320 feet is a very emotional subject.

NHRA scaled back the length of racetracks to 1,000 feet (removing approximately one-fourth of what had previously been) when popular Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed on June 21, 2008 in a race in Englishtown, N.J.

According to the official investigation of the tragedy, Kalitta’s death resulted from a perfect and tragic storm: his car caught fire crossing the finish line at 300 mph, the fire damaged his parachutes, the motor would not turn off and continued to rev past the finish line, he was unable to stop in the track’s short 2,300-foot run-off area, ran through a sand area that was supposed to stop runaway vehicles, vaulted a concrete wall and then smashed head-on at approximately 125 mph into a boom crane (which carried a TV cameraman who was recording passes down the dragstrip).

Kalitta was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Less than two weeks after Kalitta’s devastating and tragic wreck, the NHRA shortened track length for both Top Fuel and Funny Car races to 1,000 feet – a distance that remains in effect today.

Fortunately, we have not seen any deaths in the nitro ranks since Kalitta’s.

But therein lies the rub.

Fans – particularly longtime NHRA fans – have increasingly called for the 1,320-foot length to be reinstated. To many of them, anything less than 1,320 feet is not a “true” race.

NHRA, on the other hand, believes the fact that there have been no other deaths since Kalitta’s is enough evidence that the track length reduction works – and continues to work to this day.

Granted, while Kalitta’s memory and his tragic crash are emotional topics on both sides of the track-lengthening debate, there have been a number of safety enhancements implemented since his death that have significantly reduced the chance of a potential repeat tragedy.

For the most part, there are few tracks that have short runoff areas. One of the most notable is Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, where Kalitta lost his life. Due to the track dimensions and a major highway that abuts the rear portion of the track, it’s impossible to extend or reconfigure the present and long-held runoff area.

Without sounding flippant, Old Bridge’s runoff area worked well for so many years before Kalitta’s fluke and fateful wreck.

Kalitta was the third major driver that NHRA had lost in the previous four years, including promising up-and-coming Top Fuel racer Darrell Russell in 2004 and another young and promising driver, Eric Medlen, in 2007.

I admit, I’m torn on whether to go back to 1,320 feet. The last thing I want to do is compromise safety and run the risk of another Kalitta-like tragedy.

At the same time, NHRA has one of the most astute safety teams in the business when it comes to determining what is safe and what isn’t. With all the safety innovations that have occurred since Kalitta’s death, I’m cautiously optimistic that NHRA can return to 1,320-foot racing for the nitro classes.

And if there are further safety elements that must be instilled, such as limiting horsepower or speed (much like NASCAR’s restrictor plate racing at Daytona and Talladega), I’m okay with that, as well.

NHRA has long been a sanctioning body and shepherd of a sport that believes in giving fans what they want and ask for. If the fans want to see racing return to 1,320 feet, particularly if it will reinvigorate the sport and entice former fans to return to the stands and back in front of their TV sets, then NHRA needs to give those fans what they seek.

Even if it means dropping tracks from the schedule if they don’t have or can’t improve substantial runoff areas to keep everyone safe. If one or a few tracks can’t adapt, is it fair to hold other tracks that can safely offer 1,320-foot racing hostage?

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s