It’s Time To Step Forward And Slow The Cars Down


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Having worked in drag racing virtually his entire professional career, Earwood bought Rockingham (N.C.) Dragway in 1992 and has operated the facility ever since.

On the Board: Earwood was a charter member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Motorsports Ass’n.

IHRA Track: Rockingham Dragway hosts a pair of International Hot Rod Ass’n events every year.

Family Tree: Earwood grew up in a racing family. His father, Charles, worked in road racing and his brother, Terry, is an instructor at Skip Barber Racing.

Fatalities have been a part of our sport since the first hand was wrapped around a steering wheel.

Due to the diligent dedication of all of our auto-racing sanctioning bodies driven mostly by adverse publicity and insurance concerns, today’s racing, for the most part, is moderately safe.

It’s when we go for a long time without a death that we forget just how dangerous this sport is.

It’s like we’re lulled into thinking — or actually not even thinking at all — that motorsports is all about competitiveness and going faster than the competition. Shoot, anybody can drive these things and very seldom does anyone get hurt.

Then we lose someone like Funny Car driver Eric Medlen, who died of serious injuries he suffered while testing his Ford Mustang Funny Car at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway in late March. Medlen was the first NHRA professional driver killed since Darrell Russell (Top Fuel) in 2004 and the first NHRA Funny Car pilot to lose his life in a race car since Gerry Schwartz was killed at Dallas in 1969.

The ruthless reality stabs us in the heart, and we are reminded that auto racing, and drag racing in particular, is not only very dangerous, but blatantly insane. It is almost unimaginable to think one can safely accelerate from a standstill to 320 miles per hour in the length of a Super Wal-Mart.

There is not a vehicle on Earth that can assure a driver’s safety in a vehicle that weighs more than 2,000 pounds and is traveling at such a high rate of speed.

I am convinced the fans, at least the North Carolina drag-racing fans, want to hear the noise that 6,000 to 8,000 horsepower engines burst out, while smelling the nitro methane and witnessing cars melting three feet of racing slicks during a pre-run burnout.

These same fans that attend drag races at Rockingham Dragway and other strips across the country cannot distinguish 250 mph from 330 mph, or a 4.40-second elapsed time from a 5.0-second elapsed time.

They couldn’t care less about the soaring speeds or the minimal e.t.s. Give them side-by-side burnouts and wheel-to-wheel, 250-mph racing and everybody will be thoroughly entertained.

Thus, we ask, why do we need to be running these deadly speeds? The answer is one I don’t have.

Maybe we have let the crew chiefs drive the bus, and we haven’t taken the time to figure out how to harness their creativity and their steady objective to outrun the guy in the other lane, while doing it at a manageable speed.

And it is an endless cycle. Drag racers will start by running 280 mph, then pick up a mph here and a couple more there. The next thing you know, the speeds will have again outgrown rationale.

It’s time, we the track owners and sanctioning bodies say, “Enough,” and we take steps to slow these folks down.

Let’s reduce the speeds, reduce the cost, and, as a result, reduce the prospect of losing another talented young man like Eric Medlen.

(Original Print Date: May 2, 2007)