Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Top Fuel Motorcycle 1000’ Drag Racing: When is now?

Published on January 1, 2014 by   ·   30 Comments

If we value human life as much as we do this sport, it’s time we rethink where to put the finish line when Top Fuel motorcycles are on the drag strips.  Top Fuel motorcycles that once covered the ¼ mile in 10 seconds at 100 miles per hour now cover 1320 feet of distance in about 5.7 seconds at speeds of 255 miles per hour.

Exciting for fans yes, safe for our heroes, no, not even close.  When you see these motorcycles race, if you value these drag bike pilots lives, now is time to rethink the location of the finish line location for Top Fuel motorcycles.

Elmer Trett Top Fuel

Elmer Trett, the first Top Fuel motorcycle drag racer to breach 200, 210, 220, and 235 miles-per-hour. © Tom McCarthy, all rights reserved.

In 1950, going a quarter of a mile in 10 seconds at 100 mph was exhilarating for drag bike pilots.  Today, going 255 mph in close to five and a half seconds, traveling the same distance as in 1950, is not exhilarating for a Top Fuel bike pilot; it’s cause for grave concern.  That’s right grave, as in that fuel bike pilot might not come back.  Concern because if anything goes wrong the results can yield grave consequences as they have before.

Remember the following statement and mark my words well here “speed magnifies everything.”  The cost of racing, the dangers, any mistakes made: the greater the speed involved, there will be an exponential increase in the consequences.

The longer the racing distance, the greater the speeds the machines will achieve.

Korry Hogan Top Fuel

Korry Hogan piloting the Hogan, Dryden, Alwine Top Fuel bike setting the 255 mile per hour record on April 8, 2011 seen here at the 1000’ mark at South Georgia Motorsports Park. Photo © Tom McCarthy, all rights reserved.

It is the responsibility of racing sanctions, to police the safety aspects that govern the conduct of racing.  They do this by setting policy on racing standards via rules to govern safety.  When the sport of drag racing began, it was initially born from the need for safer racing, to get cars and motorcycles off the streets to curb street racing.

To enhance their sport, hot rodders banded together in the 1950’s, lead by Wally Parks, they formed an association known as the National Hot Rod Association.  Shortly thereafter, the NHRA launched a traveling road show known as the “Safety Safari.”  They were a bunch of hot rodders who barn stormed the USA putting on drag races to promote the sport and by bringing safety and organization to it.  This was how the sport known as drag racing began, it’s very roots were formed in the soil of safety first.  High performance always took a back seat to the safety aspects of the sport when this sport was first formed.  The time is now to assert this premise once again.

Korry Hogan 255 MPH Time Slip

Korry Hogan’s historic run of 255mph is the bench mark for all Top Fuel motorcycles in the world today. © Tom McCarthy, all rights reserved.

Over time, Top Fuel motorcycles have now evolved in performance faster than the racing format itself is designed to safely accommodate.  A record setting T/F bike of today can cover half the timed distance of a drag strip in less than two seconds with a terminal speed of 255mph.  Simply making race tracks longer to create, a longer shut down, even if this were possible, will only address one aspect of problem.  The real problem is two-fold: 1) the amount of speed achieved at the finish line and 2) sufficient distance to safely stop a 1000 pound motorcycle traveling at a rate greater than one football field-per-second.

Consider this; most any I-4 Top Fuel bike can achieve 230 miles-per-hour at the finish line.  At that speed, at that moment, the 1000 + pound motorcycle is traveling at 337 feet-per-second.  At that speed, if the shut down distance were 1/2 of a mile, a Top Fuel bike pilot will run out of track in exactly 7.8 seconds.  The bottom line is this; a 230mph T/F bike pilot has about eight seconds to bring their thundering beast to a safe stop.  A 255mph T/F bike has exactly 7 seconds.

Larry McBride Bradenton

Larry “Spiderman” McBride, the current reigning champion of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing in the United States. © Tom McCarthy, all rights reserved.

Now take into consideration that Top Fuel bikes are only going to go faster in the future. Their speeds will increase year after year, but the tracks will remain the same length.  Can a sanction, should a sanction step in and help avert another disaster before it happens?  When is now?

If the timed racing distance is shortened from 1320’ to 1000’ this will help safety in two ways: 1) T/F bikes will achieve top speeds of close to 230 mph plus or minus 10 mph.  2)  By adding an additional 100 yards to the shut down area, this gives T/F bike pilots an additional full second of time to slow their bikes down. This additional one second WILL help save lives.

Peter Svensson Top Fuel Bradenton

Peter Svensson of Sweden on board the quickest motorcycle in the world he built with his brother Soren Svensson, they have gone as quick as 5.70 seconds in the quarter mile. © Tom McCarthy, all rights reserved.

How fast is too fast, how quick is too quick?  I’m not exactly sure about that but I am sure of two things, it’s time to start talking openly about this subject, and I know what the price will be and who will pay the costs if we don’t.

How do today’s Top Fuel motorcycle pilots feel about discussing this topic?

Larry McBride, “I’m a 1320 guy myself, but I’m not opposed to the idea.”

Korry Hogan, “I’m not opposed to the idea, it’s E.T. that wins races.”

Larry McBride Interview

The fearless and always outspoken Larry McBride says , “I’m a 1320 guy myself, but I’m not opposed to the idea.”

Chris Hand, “I prefer 1320’ of racing, but I’m not opposed to looking at this.”

Sam Wills, “I like 1320 feet or racing thank you.  But I’ve never gone over 240mph.  If I had, I might think differently about this.”

Dave Vantine, “I’m the new kid in town, but I’m all for safety.”

Geoff Pollard, “I don’t like the idea, 1320’ for me.”

Athol Williams, “I would be very disappointed if they knock it back.”

Phil Parker, “I think it would be a good move.”

Gavin Spann, “I’m in favor of ¼ mile racing, I would not like 1000 foot.”

Sverre Dahl, “Not sure, it depends on the track.  I like ¼ mile and I think it’s safe, but it depends on the track.  It’s an idea.”

Chris Matheson, “I don’t see the need to shorten the distance.”

Rikard Gustafsson, “I know this will be the natural development because of the performance of our machines and it will be better to do this before anyone of us will sacrifice our life. Safety first even, if I love to run the 1/4.”

 Jan Sturla Hegre, “I like full track, I like the challenge, it’s not easy!”

Jules Boag – We need to keep racing over the 1/4 mile, 1000ft is useless.

Peter Svensson – If the length of the tracks is like here in Europe and Australia it would be the right way to go.  But if it’s racing on tracks like NHRA standard I like 1/4 mile would better.

Finn Asserbo –  I would like 1000 foot because my Top Fuel Bike very old, so it can keep competitive for longer.

Ian King – Only 1320 foot is real dragracing in my view but if track conditions dictate (weather, shutdown distance etc) then it should be considered on an as need basis.

What are your thoughts? Should Top Fuel Motorcycle be contested to the 1,000-foot mark? Let us know what you think.







 

Comments

comments

Tags:

Readers Comments (30)

  1. Marcus Möller says:

    Im not a pilot myself, im”just” a hardcore-fan from my childhood.

    One “problem” i see with decrease the distance..noone can ever beat the quartermile speed and E.T-records im conservative and i dont like that!

    But, safety first and this is the best way make our sport more safe.

    I think its more importnant to make sure the surface around the track is smooth.

    Regards from Sweden

  2. Bill Huseth says:

    Top Fuel Bike is simply a more dangerous class than the cars because there’s no roll bar or safety harness in the event of a crash. I want the riders to be safe, but I also want the sheer visceral thrill of quarter-mile action with the front wheel in the air. If the riders are willing to band together and demand 1000-foot racing, then I’ll still (grudgingly) watch, but I VASTLY prefer 1320 feet!

    Bill Huseth
    Top Fuel Bike fan

  3. David says:

    absolutely do it now before we lose another great racer,how sweet would it be to go to the track and still see Elmer.

  4. Red Roberts says:

    1000′ isn’t short enough… Standardize the entire sport at 1/8th mile. Spectators can see both ends of the race instead of having to pick which end to be at. Racers get everything on an 1/8th mile pass that they do on a 1/4 mile pass except the wear on parts and the danger.. I’m fond of telling folks that if their car runs 120 in a 1/4 mile that they’ll get real close to 100 on an 1/8th – I suppose for top fuel bikes that translates into a 240 mph bike doing close to 200… There’s a real good chance that the sport would expand as racers realize that their costs per pass would go down.. On the race track’s side – a 1/4 mile track ain’t twice as much work as an 1/8th mile = it’s 4 times the trouble (motors bust at 1/8th mile and scatter oil the last 1/8th mile) and a 60′ wide 1/4 mile track takes 3 times as much traction compound as a 40′ wide 1/8th mile dragstrip for traction to be equal between them – and for 1/8th of a mile a 40′ wide track is adequate..

  5. Jim Mayo says:

    Interesting subject, When they went to 1000′ in NHRA I was apposed until I gave it a lot of thought…. They will attain same speeds in the 1000 ft quickly as with any change that has been made in past. But as I get older and clear thinking shows me that safety and > saving parts, Is a reality. I was viewing a old tape the other day of top fuel bikes racing on 1/8 mi. tracks… was still quite impressive, Larry Ring, Pete Hill, Mike Romine and many others, still raced for the “race” not the size of the track. I tell people all the time that my bike reaches it’s quickest time/speed in the 660′ mark 80% and the rest 20% of the speed and time is spent in the last 660. what is the gain? In the top end you got to stop the bike. we have all seen some strange things happen after 660… ever watch a vicious tank slap event? looking for the opponent, only to find him in your lane? the list goes on and on. But even Mr. Hogan said in an interview the biggest issues today are stopping. Red makes a good point, besides my wallet can use a break. Save the parts,

  6. Dave Sebastian says:

    I agree with Red Roberts ( hi Red ) I like the 1/8 mile strips. I watched Tommy Grimes hit just under 200mph at Farmington Dragway this past summer,,on his nitro Harley. It was a hoot to watch.

  7. Curtis Griggs says:

    I like 1/8 mile racing, it would B OK with me if all of drag racing motorcycle and cars in every class were 1/8 mile or 1000′

  8. Ian King says:

    I’m sure my fellow class riders join me in welcoming the concern shared in the article, but few (if any) want anything other than 1/4 mile racing. What should be considered is that the quickest and fastest class in motorcycle dragracing should not be run on tracks that are unsuitable for such machines, particularly if the shutdown area is too short.

    • Tom McCarthy says:

      Ian, Sir thank you for voicing your comments here, I value that highly. I agree in on both counts that no one “wants” anything less than full throttle 1320 of racing, but depending on many factors, I feel it is time to discuss all options. And that we are doing so can only help the sport.

  9. Kelly Trett Thomason says:

    I personally think it should be left up the the men that run these machines. Not a bunch of people sitting around a table making up rules. Who best knows these machines than those riding and building them? They know the capabilities, the stopping abilities and such. Being around them ALL MY LIFE, and rulebooks being wrote off of our bikes, I do believe that in this case this is something that the Top Fuel Riders need to decide as a whole/class, and let the majority rule. It also maybe something that can change track to track due to shutdown and length of the track.

  10. Tom McCarthy says:

    I value each and every comment by every person who takes time out of their day to voice his or her opinion.
    In my mind, speaking for myself here, the time is now to start looking at this topic and openly discussing it here as we all are. As you can see by my story, I took the time to exchange with the Top Fuel bike drivers and they have voiced their comments here for all to see. Few are opposed to open discussion.

    • Ian King says:

      Hi Tom, I disagree that the riders agreed to `open’ discussion. In general they prefer 1320 but a minority are willing to consider 1000, that is not the same as agreeing to having this discussion publicly.

  11. Kelly Trett Thomason says:

    Most people do not recognize the speeds and et’s in the 1/8th mile. You need to take that into consideration as well. I mean to be honest. When I use to tell people Daddy held the record in the 1/8 mile with bla bla bla they would look at me with a blank face. People do not understand this. Especially if this is a 1/4 track and TF is only running 1/8 mile. Now I know this is a safety issue, don’t get me wrong. We want our racers safe first and for most, BUT, YOU WANT A CROWD! You want spectators! You want people in the stands and high MPH low ET is what brings them in and packs the stands correct??? OK.. There are a lot of factors to look at here…

    • Robert Zorn says:

      Yes Kelly You are right! I have spent many days at a 1/8 mile track because this is what i have and liked it. I like the top end 1/4 mile track But!IHRA has been my home for years We as independent racers.

  12. I feel the Biggest safety feature I have fitted to my bike was My CHUTE Thanks Jay Upton and Thanks Sam Well’s for bringing “The Chute To Top Bikes”But the placement of the activation is also Very Important I have a toggle switch below my left handgrip so my right finger on my left hand can hover over the switch from a 1/3 track on-woulds gets ugly close your finger Chute is out pulling you straight YOU DONT HAVE TO USE IT but it is there.
    The Flying KIWI

  13. wild Bill says:

    Motor sprinting .
    1,000 ft. is your.future

    mph is a tuning tool replaced by onboard
    data retrieval.
    660 ft as needed

  14. Roy Strawn says:

    When NHRA cut the Nitro Machines to 1000′, many complained, many approved..Today, no one can really tell the difference Except the Drivers/Riders..Always Think Safety FIRST…Racing in the Nitro Cars is just as exciting as ever, and performance has increased (Racers are like that). More stopping distance/Time Will Save Lives, even with the long overdue advent of Chutes on Bikes..At speeds over 200-240, The World Changes. Ask the Guys (& Gals) who run the LSR Tracks. Might even make more Riders more competitive..SAFETY ALWAYS FIRST!!!!

  15. Jon Baugh says:

    I SO appreciate the tradition almost “sacred” nature of the 1/4 mile length. I get it..BUT, I really believe that for the longevity and growth of the sport, 1000ft racing needs to be seriously looked at. In my view there are many UP sides to this on a practical level. My first argument is what Drag racing is by definition.. An ACCELERATION CONTEST,NOT a top speed contest…The astonishing top speeds T/F bikes are going, I really believe that with out some Professional, real wind tunnel testing on these bikes, that they are close to a VERY dangerous limit right now, and that testing is VERY,VERY expensive. I would also think that a professional who campaigns on a National level, would SAVE MONEY …running 320ft less every pass, less fuel, less wear and tear…etc. It would make a difference, and I REALLY believe that the quality of the show would be just as good if not better. I certainly do not think NHRA T/F and F/C racing has suffered from a fans viewpoint since the 1000 ft racing began. And make NO mistake, the more asses in the seats, the longer everyone will be Drag Racing. So my point is, to be around longer, we have to be shorter…..Just my opinion….

  16. Greg Pollard says:

    Never having ridden a Top Fuel bike my comments are from the perspective of an owner/crew chief only. Like the majority of people commenting I am a strong supporter of 1320′ racing and would be dissappointed if there was a blanket decision to move to a shorter distance, especially 1/8 mile. I agree with comment made by Ian King that these bikes should only run on tracks with adequate shutdown length to stop them safely. In the short term any decision to shorten a race can be made on a track by track basis depending on shutdown length, weather etc. I also agree with comments that any decision to change T/F racing should be made by people with a direct stake in the sport (riders, owners, crew chiefs etc). Having said that I think what is really needed in T/F right now is some overall organization & direction to grow & monitor the class. I would like to see a governing committee put in place that is made up of owners, riders etc(ideally one body worldwide but more realistically 3 committee’s, N America, Europe & Australia) that could work together to move the class forward. Today’s technology makes this possible without the need for many face to face meetings etc. Committee items could include,

    – review & recommend safety improvements for T/F, examples; parachutes & fairings that deflect wind off the rider etc should be made manditory as soon as they are proven.
    – implement a consistent licensing process for all new riders including medical clearance etc.so riders are not making full passes before they are ready.
    – create and recommend a track rating system for T/F such as A tracks – 1320′, B tracks 1000′, C tracks 660′.
    – In the longer term make educated recommendations about the need to move to 1000′ or 660′ racing.

    Ultimately the class would be better and safer with knowledgeable people reviewing these issues.

    • Peter Villacaro says:

      The term “safety” used in the same sentence with racing of any type is a complete illusion, to think Top Fuel can be made “safe” is a complete fantasy.
      Shortening the course for the cars has proven the tuners will “shorten the fuse” to match and with that another fantasy of “saving money” racing in an essentially unlimited class.

    • Tom McCarthy says:

      I fully endorse this and hope this open discussion moves this forward.

      • George Fraser says:

        I really like what Greg had to say Tom about the track rating system and think it’s an awesome idea that the men and women who are part of the sport might want to take a look at.

    • Ian King says:

      Hi Greg,
      as already discussed I agree with your comments, and in fact we already operate something similar to what you describe In Europe.
      I am current representative for the European Top Fuel Bike Association (ETFBA) and it is open to all riders and owners (if they are not the riders) in Europe of all non twin 4 Cylinder Nitro machines (blown or injected). It is a non profit and non fee charging organisation.

      Within the items you mention as Committee responsible, the licensing one is quite interesting. In EU we have a much more rigorous licensing structure than in NA. For a UK rider to apply for a National Drag Race license they must have a medical `tick’ report signed by their own GP (Doctor) and Optician and also sign their own approval and acceptance of fit for race. If you are 50 yrs or older then you must have a full medical with stress ECG tests every three years. Before running any new bike for a full ¼ they have to prove competence by performing a number of individual actions to the satisfaction of a licensed official namely burnout, launch, 60 ft, 1/8th mile and then a number of ¼ mile passes before they are granted a full license.

      A year after having been granted this National license they can apply for an International License (to race in the FIM European Championship). For this license you must have an annual full medical. You also have to get permission for any races outside of your home country that is granted by way of an insurance policy that benefits rider air repatriation to their home country from anywhere in the world should they be injured in a race. It also affords money for loss of eye (s) and limbs etc.

  17. George Fraser says:

    Not being a pilot myself and not having been over 130 mph in the 1320,I don’t really feel qualified commenting on piloting a tkp fuel bike,I will say that I think like Greg said a track rating system would be a great idea in my humble opinion and think it’s something those who are most involved in the sport should be the ones who have the say as to where this all goes.Personally I’m a huge fan of the sport and the 1320.

  18. Kenup283 says:

    There’s nothing real safe about any of it. Tracks which lack sufficient shut down should be run 1/8 mile and not used to restrict the sport in general just because its “historic” venue or near high market area. When you think about those particular places there’s really not much to be gained in 320 ft when youre already doing 200 mph by the half way point ie. over 300 feet per second.

  19. Robert Chw says:

    Racers are inovative. Loosen up the rules in areas that promote stopping. Look at the advancements addressing speed. Maybe require cars to stop in a specified distance instead of reducing distance raced. Doing this would get more sponsors due to new products needed. Quit thinking the current cars and bikes are all there are, racing constantly evolves.




Related Stories