#HEADERGATE - NITRO FUNNY CAR LAID-BACK HEADER CONTROVERSY BREWING AGAIN
During the offseason and throughout the 2017 year, the topic of laid-back headers wouldn’t go away.
Well, the topic is back in the forefront again because some NHRA nitro teams don’t believe all the teams are competing on the same level playing field.
The sanctioning body told all Funny Car teams the following Funny Car header rule changes would become effective Jan. 1, 2018:
Headers – Minimum angle 40 degrees (measured from the ground) (currently 32 degrees), maximum width of headers: 83 inches (currently 79 inches)
Now 13 races into the 2018 season, the laid-back header issue is once again a point of controversy. It’s something NHRA is looking into this weekend at the national event – the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H.
“Ned Walliser (NHRA’s Vice President of Competition) and the (NHRA) Competition team are currently investigating and within this investigation all Funny Car headers are being measured in the same manner,” said NHRA’s Senior Director of PR and Communications Jessica Hatcher, to Competition Plus. “Epping is where we are going through the measuring process and the investigation is ongoing as of now.”
Crew chief Dickie Venables, a three-time world champion Funny Car tuner, is not happy with the way NHRA was handling the laid-back issues the first 12 races of a 24-race season.
“There some concern about the way Force’s (John Force Racing) headers are, and the way they are measuring them,” Venables said. “There’s just confusion on how they are being measured. Not that anybody is illegal, there is just confusion on how they were measured over the winter and how they are measured now. It seems like NHRA has two methods of measuring them. They measure them one way for the Force cars and another way for everybody else. That’s a concern. Everybody is in the same boat as we are it is just (Matt Hagan) is the first one who spoke out about it. This is not against anyone or anything like that. It is just if
you’re going to measure them, however you measure them it needs to be the same for all teams.”
Hagan drives the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car tuned by Venables. After Hagan captured the provisional pole June 6 at Epping with a 3.932-second lap at 322.04, he addressed the laid-back headers.
“We tested a new body (June 25 in Norwalk) and things went really well and honestly, we’re jumping up and down right now about (John) Force’s headers and Courtney’s headers and stuff like and we’re trying to get it somewhat outlawed, so to speak, just because they have an advantage right now,” Hagan said. “Our bodies, we can’t lay them back the way they want to, but now with this new body we can go out there and make those changes. It has allowed them to press and in some of these hot conditions that we can’t go as hard. I think they have had a huge competitive advantage over the whole entire field where now I think that we’re going to get back onto a level playing field and as good as our car is running right now with what we have got, I think there are just more good things to come in the future.”
Ron Capps, the 2016 nitro Funny Car champion, and driver of the NAPA Dodge for DSR, had this to say about the brewing controversy.
“We learned what just a couple of degrees of header angle can do with performance over the last five years,” Capps said. “To hear there is a discrepancy in measurement from certain cars in the pit area is extremely disappointing, if it is true.”
A possible competitive advantage with laid-back headers for one team over another is something Venables wants to stop.
“It has been going on all year and it NHRA is finally investigating it,” Venables said. “It should be the same for everybody. It is crazy to have two different ways of measuring it. All any of us is after is just a level playing field. We don’t know for a fact that their headers are any more laid back than ours, but what we do know is they have to change the way they measure JFRs headers for them to be legal. It is not singling out anybody or anything like that, you need one set of rules. We don’t want another run to go by. Every run is important, and it has gone on too long and we need to have it cleared up, that’s all. If they are going measure them, let’s say measure them the JFR way, then we want to build headers to meet the JFR way of measuring them. That’s the bottom line. I’m not one to say, ‘hey their headers are not legal.’ I’m just one to say, ‘hey rules are rules and they need to be the same for everybody involved.”
Venables acknowledged his team did what the sanctioning body asked them to do – regarding laid-back headers in the offseason.
“What NHRA did over the winter, they wanted the cars to stand the headers up,” Venables said. “Make them more drivable and slow them down a little, so we did that and everybody else did that with the normal way of measuring them. Essentially, we could run our headers from last year, which are laid back another eight degrees if we measured them the way they are measuring Force’s. We told NHRA we were going to do that, and they said, ‘no you can’t.’ It’s like well OK. That essentially says there are two ways to measure and it is just bulls**.”
Jack Beckman, the 2012 world champion and driver of the Infinite Hero Dodge for DSR took time to explain how things have evolved to this point.
“Ned (Walliser NHRA’s Vice President of Competition) is thorough and fair and a no B.S. guy,” Beckman said. “So, I’m confident that were going to get some resolution on this. I’m sure hoping that everybody gets to race on a level playing field. Back in 2015, when (Jimmy) Prock, (John) Medlen) and (Chris) Cunningham laid the headers back on my car and we eventually wound up going two more versions of laid back because there was no rule. What we did was 100 percent legal and legitimate. Then NHRA intervened and said OK we have some cars doing some mid-track power stands where do you guys want to stop on this and the consensus was 32 degrees. Now, we are trying to limit the speed, so, Funny Cars have more rev limiter and now we have reduced track prep and they decided let’s go to 40 degrees for the headers.”
As for measuring the headers, Beckman had the following thoughts:
“It seems a pretty straightforward part on the car and protocol for measuring the car,” Beckman said. “You stick a template parallel with the race car because the very term laid back obviously means relative to the direction that the car travels. We don’t care about laid out to the side or offset. Laid back is relative to the direction that the car will go or parallel to the race car. There’s been some talk that when they have measured one team’s headers they had to angle the template to get the header to fit the mold of the template. My understanding was there were several attempts to clarify this and yet we keep coming back with an ambiguous procedure, so I hope (July 6) was the beginning of having one procedure for every race car. It just needs to be one standardized protocol for every car. You will have a template and you will have a manner in which you apply that template to each and every race car. I can’t conjecture as to whether that’s been altered, I’m only hearing things from who I consider very reputable sources that, that has been an issue in the past. When you’re dominating, the greatest form of flattery is to be accused of cheating because it means the other teams don’t know how you’re doing so much better than them. However, even if you’re not dominating, if you’re doing something that has been listed as illegal per rules, then it needs to police and enforced immediately not 13 races into the season now.”