Could traction control make the NHRA’s Pro Stock division safer when racing in less-than-optimum conditions?
Some say yes. Some say no. And, at least one says some teams are already using a traction control device illegally.
When asked questions about traction control, those who have lost traction and barely escaped serious accidents say yes. The traditionalists overwhelmingly say no.
However, both sides admit the racing surface at zMax Dragway during the O’Reilly NHRA Nationals presented a racing surface both challenging and treacherous. They just believe the situation existed for different reasons. Thus, the solution is different.
Larry Morgan, an accomplished Pro Stock racer, described the conditions he experienced at Charlotte as some of the toughest he’s ever seen. The Lucas Oil-sponsored driver said he would be a huge proponent for traction control in this class.
“I think everybody ought to have traction control,” said Morgan. “I’ve been saying it for years. It makes the racing better. Traction control will not be a fix-all. It will help out a little. It would have definitely helped out in Charlotte. If you could put it on in high gear, it would be nice.”
In the case of the zMax Dragway event, because of the extreme moisture generated by rain on Sunday morning, track preparation was hindered when the glue laid down by the NHRA wouldn’t properly adhere to the racing surface.
“The NHRA was in a no-win situation and when the dew point gets to the point it was, there’s nothing they can really do, you see what the final was like,” Morgan explained. “You look at the big picture and the fuel cars are slowing down where we need traction. I believe in this situation traction control could help us to have a better handle on our race cars.”
Since the NHRA shortened their nitro categories to a 1,000-foot race course, the sanction bodies officials have been leery of spraying heavily beyond the nitro finish line for fear the added traction in the deceleration area would lead to chunking of the tires on the 10,000-horsepower cars. Unfortunately, the diminished track prep after the 1,000 mark has often left the Pro Stock cars adjusting to a diminished amount of traction in the last 320 feet of their racing.
Dave Connolly, Pro Stock driver and crew chief for Erica Enders, felt firsthand the treacherous nature of the zMax incident. Both he Enders pushed in the clutch when they felt their cars skirting close to being out of control.
Connolly believes the situation hindering the Pro Stock cars could be rectified with improved track prep, instead of traction control.
“I don’t see it helping more than in low gear,” said Connolly. “We want to get these things up on the tire. That’s the challenging part for the crew chiefs. I don’t think (traction control) would help. You know when the car gets to a certain point, you push in the clutch and race another day.”
According to the experts, the issues with bringing traction control into Pro Stock is in the situation such as what transpired at zMax Dragway. It was not an overabundance of tire spin. The incidents of challenging conditions for Enders, Connolly, Morgan and Shane Gray didn’t produce tire spin.
Sideward motion registered by the side-to-side g-meter is another story.
Enders, following her loss in the first round, told CompetitionPlus.com the g-meter readings on the computer in her Cobalt measured strong sideways movement.
The worst wreck of the weekend, involving Shane Gray's Pro Stock Pontiac GXP was also not a traction control issue.
In Gray’s case, he experienced strong sideways movements but admits he stayed in the throttle longer than he should have.
“I don’t know if it would have helped in my situation,” admitted Gray. “I really believe if we use our heads and keep our egos in check the driver becomes the traction control. If it gets loose, shut it off.”
Jim Yates, a two-time Pro Stock champion now turned tuner, said he wouldn’t be one of those in favor of a traction control device if implemented on the Pro Stock entries.
“There’s really no need for it,” said Yates. “If you introduce traction control, it would bring so many variables into the situation that people will be able to take advantage of. What you’ll see in time, is it will take the crew chief and crew out of the equation.”
Yates explained the variables he presented would likely be sophistication in analyzing runs. The data, he said, could be used to make the cars even faster and in some instances increase spending.
Yates believes Pro Stock would be served better by a device other than traction control in terms of crashes.
“We need to put some kind of trip strip along the rocker or the top of the car just like we used to have rain gutters on the old cars,” said Yates. “Maybe three quarters inch wide from front to back, and it wouldn’t hurt the cars at all going straight. When it starts to yaw, it would trip the flow of air over the car. It would help keep it on the ground.”
Currently the Pro Stock cars run a wicker-bill on the rear of the cars and a splitter [similar to NASCAR entries] to provide a measure of stability on the top end of the strip. Many of the Pro Stock drivers have been critical of these required items implemented after the infamous 2010 Phoenix event where multiple cars crashed following a track prep issue.
Morgan believes the NHRA should just go ahead and legalize the traction control unit as he alleges there are some teams running traction control already. Currently the unit is not legal in any of the NHRA’s professional divisions.
“Without a doubt …,” Morgan pointed out. “I saw cars in the water that couldn’t spin the tires. They were making flawless runs and couldn’t spin the tires in the water. That’s when I realized, by my own eyes … there’s s*** going on out here. I know the guy who made it. He told me, there’s a half-dozen teams with it.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember a car couldn’t do a burnout in the finals. It COULD NOT spin the tires in the water in the final. But it went out there and hauled a**. Apparently they had something like traction control.”
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