WADE: Results Of Safety Programs Evident

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SEATTLE — Ashley Force Hood collected herself following a supercharger explosion at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa., that blew the body of her Castrol GTX Mustang Funny Car high into the night air during Friday qualifying for the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals. Meanwhile, her father, John Force, who had been in the opposite lane, surveyed the damage.

What he found was encouraging.

“The body went airborne because it unhinged. It didn’t break in half. That is what is most important,” Force said, “because when they break in half, you lose all your aero on these Ford Mustangs. The strength of these bodies comes from Ford engineering.

“It is just good to see that a lot of the safety we have on these cars will hold them together,” Force said. “We have seen cars explode and come in half and pieces go flying. She was early when she blew up instead of in the lights. The body was damaged, but it wasn’t broken in half. That means the structural strength was there.”

This incident looked like Force Hood’s 2007 Seattle wall-banger and the explosion she experienced at Maple Grove last year in qualifying. It also was a preview of the blow-up she had in Sunday’s first round of eliminations. More importantly, it certified all the research and development the Eric Medlen Project has been doing. Those safety changes are working.

Few in any discipline of racing concern themselves with safety engineering and vehicle structure when all is proceeding smoothly. That usually fades into the subconscious as performance returns to the forefront.

Cool temperatures at tracks with great hook, tracks such as Maple Grove and New Jersey’s Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, only encourage tuners and drivers to be aggressive, capitalizing on the chance to shine. Force Hood said that factored into her decision to stay on the throttle when she sensed something amiss.

“I was excited for the run because it was cool with good conditions,” she said. “It gave me a little warning to lift. I was thinking these are the best conditions we have seen in a while, [that] maybe I am just feeling it go so hard. I didn’t want to make the wrong choice and lift. As soon as I was thinking that is when it went. I just made the wrong judgment call.”

She said her head hit both sides of the roll-cage padding. That she had no head or neck troubles was a victory for the Eric Medlen Project.

Chassis builder Nicky Montana understands. The previous weekend, at The Shakedown at E-Town premier outlaw drag race at Englishtown, N.J., Montana’s handiwork saved Benny Alfonso’s life, like it spared Joe Newsham’s at the previous Shakedown.

Pro Modified driver Alfonso is recovering from a compression fracture of a vertebra following a frightening crash in a Montana-signature race car. Newsham walked around at the scene of his fiery, flipping, wall-ricocheting Outlaw 10.5 wreck before a trip to the hospital revealed a compression fracture that did not require surgery.

After race-testing his own designs for three years before he would sell one to anyone else, Montana (MBRC/Pro Chassis Design) constructs his cars with tubing at the car’s stress points thicker than SFI specs require.

The difference between the SFI-mandated 83-thousandths of an inch thickness and his own 95-thousandths, Montana said, is about the depth of a matchbook cover.

Montana said that in drag racing “everything is jeopardized for the sake of weight. There’s got to be a balance between weight and speed. It’s a double-edged sword — and it has to work right every time.”

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