NHRA alters format for setting national records

NHRA no longer requires one percent backup runs to uphold national records.

In NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing, as well as the J&A Pro Mod series and Lucas Oil series alcohol classes (dragster and funny car), it’s been a requirement to back up a record run with a pass down the drag strip that is within one percent of the speed or elapsed time (ET) during that particular race meeting.

How does one differentiate between fluke runs, something tripping the [timing] beams by accident, malfunction of timing system or a real record?

NHRA competitor arguing why the backup run is needed

Many drivers and riders have taken swipes at national records without the backup. At the season finale in Pomona last November the Funny Car record changed hands multiple times, finally resting with Jack Beckman (3.884 sec) and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan (331.45mph), both occurring during the season finale. Anyone that’s followed drag racing for a number of years will remember the intensity and excitement of waiting to see if Jack, Matt - or someone else - would take that record and the 20 points that went with it.

Reasoning behind backup run

NHRA always said that the backup run was necessary because of the equipment and the subjective capabilities of early electronic timing and scoring. A few years ago at Pomona there was a problem with the system and a back marker held the record for a bit before NHRA realized there was a problem with tripping the beam.

Today all that changed as the sanctioning body decided to enact new rules for the 2016 season that not only eliminate the need for backup but also rid the accomplishment of the 20 points that went with a record.

The official notice stated that certification for national records in all three series, NHRA Mello Yello, J&A Pro Mod and Lucas Oil alcohol categories will no longer require a 1% backup. “Under this new policy, NHRA teams who post performances for elapsed time and speed that are quicker or faster than the existing national records at any time during any national event, will be eligible for the national record,” the series said.

At the same time, NHRA is eliminating the 20-point advantage given to the driver or rider who accomplishes this feat.

NHRA comments

According to Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president of racing operations, “The one-percent policy was adopted during the early development stages of the timing system and wasn’t as reliable as the technology that we are fortunate to have in Race Control today. We will still examine every national record run to make sure the incremental numbers support the performance, in addition to inspecting every vehicle for complain with class requirements.”

Is this a good idea? The forums are already beginning to weigh in: “I think this sucks; lots of one-hit wonders will go into the record books,” said one person. “I don’t run for records; I don’t give a shit,” said another. “I think this is great, to hell with back-ups,” stated a third.

Another racer asked a viable question: “How does one differentiate between fluke runs, something tripping the [timing] beams by accident, malfunction of timing system or a real record? I have seen some ETs that are real close to a record, but were still faulty. That can be very subjective, especially if it’s close.”

No doubt the message boards will continue to light up with views from racers and fans alike. While the new ruling could benefit smaller teams, it might also remove some of the “take your breath away” excitement that is drag racing.

This latest change makes this writer wonder whether NHRA might also be ridding itself of the “little points” it awards for each Mello Yello qualifying session, where the top three qualifiers take 3, 2 and a single point, respectively, for their efforts.

To some this change might smack of the current politically correct environment, where every child gets a prize; to others the new edict might appear a leveling of the playing field. Only time will tell if it’s viable or not.

Current NHRA National Records

Top Fuel E.T. - 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. '15, Brainerd, Minn.
 / Speed - 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car E.T. - 3.884 sec. by Jack Beckman, Nov. '15, Pomona, Calif.
 / Speed - 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock E.T. - 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March '15, Charlotte, N.C.
 / Speed - 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle E.T. - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. '12, Mohnton, Pa. / Speed - 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March '15, Charlotte, N.C.

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