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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK

Funny Car Records No Laughing Matter

June 05, 1998|SHAV GLICK

Other than bragging rights and headlines, being the fastest nitro-burning dragster in the world doesn't count for much in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Winston drag racing championships.

Quickness is the important element. It doesn't matter how fast you run if you don't get to the finish line first.

Nevertheless, when John Force and his Castrol funny car twice bettered the record of top fuel dragsters for speed generated in a quarter-mile from a standing start, it raised eyebrows throughout the sport of speed. The talkative former truck driver from Yorba Linda first ran 323.35 mph at Englishtown, N.J., then came back for the final round to run 323.89--faster than any top fuel dragster had ever run.

How could a full-bodied funny car that was 225 pounds heavier, less than half as long (126 inch wheelbase to 300 inches), with no huge rear wing to create downforce, and much more difficult to handle, create more speed than a streamlined top fuel projectile?

"Look at John's car from the front, you can see how sleek it is, it cuts through the air with a minimum of drag," said Dale Armstrong, who masterminded Kenny Bernstein to the first 300 mph run in drag racing history. "It has less drag than a top fueler. Things stick out all over a top fuel car. But you'll never see a funny car go quicker than a top fueler, and that's what counts. The weight differential makes the difference."

The rewards go to the quickest: elapsed time in drag racing parlance. A look at the elapsed-time records proves the point. Had Force been running side by side with Joe Amato, whose 323.50 mph run the same day at Englishtown is the fastest for top fuel, Amato would have been an easy winner. His elapsed time was 4.578 seconds to 4.845 for Force.

The difference comes in the first eighth-mile. With its big rear wing, a top fuel car puts more power to the ground, gaining more traction and getting it off the line much faster. In the second eighth-mile, Force's funny car is gathering momentum and sweeps across the finish line with more speed, but not enough to catch the top fueler.

"At the 1,000-foot mark, it just took off," Force said. "It was like I was leaving the starting line again."

However, top speed is immaterial. If you can get there quick enough, 250 mph is fast enough. A few years ago, when speeds were nearing 300, the NHRA eliminated bonus points for top speed, but not for elapsed time.

"Yeah, I know going 323 wasn't going to get us any points, but it was something all the funny car guys can be proud of," Force said. "Amato called funny cars 'queens of the sport,' so I guess I'm Queen for a Day. I guess funny cars aren't as funny now.

"Austin Coil, he's the guy I listen to, told me before the second 323 to 'hang on for the ride of your life.' Well, he was right. And now he's telling me and that he and Bernie [Fedderly] and John Medlen are going to give me a car that will run 325.

"I wonder what Amato will think about that? If conditions are right, maybe we'll go for it at Topeka [Oct. 1-4] or the Winston Finals at Pomona [Nov. 12-15]. Wouldn't that be something for the home folks."

Coil has been Force's chief tuner for the last 15 years. Fedderly and Medlen are crew chiefs for cars driven by Force and teammate Tony Pedregon.

INDY RACING LEAGUE

As far as Billy Boat is concerned, Texas Motor Speedway owes him and car owner A.J. Foyt one, and he hopes to collect Saturday night when the IRL runs the True Value 500 on a reconfigured track.

"The whole team [has] a feeling of vengeance," Boat said. "We probably think we have a little bit of something to prove. We feel we won that race last year, we crossed the finish line first, and they gave us second."

Boat took the checkered flag last year and he and Foyt were celebrating in victory circle when Arie Luyendyk appeared, claiming he was the winner. Foyt was so incensed that he knocked (or pushed) the Indy 500 winner down.

Luyendyk was right, however, as U.S. Auto Club officials overturned the result and declared the Dutchman the winner. The goof also led to USAC being dropped by the IRL as a sanctioning body, a chore the IRL took on for itself.

A larger matter of concern is how the track will stand up after having been rebuilt since the Winston Cup race there April 5. Track owner Bruton Smith had more than 200 workers for 14- to 18-hour shifts over 35 days to finish repaving the 1.5-mile oval and install 3.5 miles of drainage piping to eliminate any further seepage problems.

IRL driver Greg Ray tested the surface on its completion and said, "This track is baby-butt smooth."

*

After the Indianapolis 500, Foyt claimed that Boat's pole-winning car had been sabotaged the night before the race, although he said that the damage was repaired before the race and had no effect on the car's performance. Boat, after leading the first 12 laps, finished 23rd.

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