Murto: Top fuel delivers unmatched thrills

Drag racing wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me; before Friday I had seen Pro Modifieds, Pro Stock, Alcohol Funny Car and Alcohol Dragsters, as well as sportsman bracket racing at a number of facilities.

But during the NHRA pro event at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania, I got to witness the controlled explosion that is Top Fuel.

Nothing is like it. When an alcohol car launches on the quarter-mile, the roar shakes your vital organs inside your chest. But when a Nitro Funny Car or Top Fuel Dragster does a burnout, the rumble tries to turn your innards inside out. And when two Top Fuel cars launch and reach speeds in excess of 300 mph in less than 1,000 feet, the sudden explosive force attempts to shake the meat off your skeletal frame.

It’s no wonder that when you become enveloped in the exhaust haze of an idling Top Fuel Dragster or Nitro Funny Car that the nitro fuel waters your eyes and singes your lungs. Fans have incredible access at NHRA professional events, and you can watch the crews hard at work tearing down and rebuilding engines between passes. Each Top Fuel engine produces approximately 10,000 horsepower.

Two Top Fuel Dragsters or Nitro Funny Cars launching together produce more horsepower than half the grid at a NASCAR Sprint Cup event.

On Sunday, Tony Schumacher beat Brittany Force in the Top Fuel final. The victory was the 500th round win of his career. Matt Hagan beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in Funny Car.

As the finals were being run at Maple Grove, the best Late Model Stock Car racers on the East Coast were competing in a 200-lap feature at Martinsville for $25,000 and a grandfather clock.

The race always provides plenty of excitement for fans, and it didn’t disappoint this year. In the end it was former NASCAR national champion Lee Pulliam in victory lane.

Drivers in the field included former national champions Peyton Sellers and Philip Morris, as well as Camping World Truck competitor Timothy Peters and Northwest Late Model star Gary Lewis, who skipped one of the big races in his region for the opportunity to race at Martinsville.

One of the most impressive runs was that of Mike Darne. A former Old Dominion Speedway champion, Darne is now based in North Carolina and hasn’t concentrated on points. He led a quarter of the race, and had a chance to win when the flag dropped for the green-white-checkered finish.

The only criticism of the race is that it tears up a lot of cars. Plus some of its traditions — such as putting the field under yellow with 10 laps to go just to bunch them up — needlessly puts an end to a good battle and ultimately changes the outcome. When the caution flew this year, Peyton Sellers was leading and Darne was second and closing.

Martinsville uses a cone rule for Late Model restarts. Drivers decide at the cone to pick the inside or outside lane. On the prior restart Darne picked the outside and lost positions, so he chose the inside. Pulliam picked the outside, so when Sellers spun his tires on the restart and got run over in Turn 1 Pulliam drove off for the win, his second in the prestigious event.

Lewis Hamilton scored his first Japanese Grand Prix win, a raced marred by the Jules Bianchi accident in which Bianchi’s Marusia plowed into a crane that was attempting to haul another car out of a gravel trap. Bianchi was in critical condition with serious head injuries as of Tuesday morning.

But as the world debates the circumstances surrounding the crash, it is missed that Jenson Button should have won the race. Button pitted for full wet tires before any of the other front runners. But when the safety car came out, it picked up Button rather than the race leader. Button was mistakenly held up behind the safety car for laps as the leaders came in to pit for tires. If race control had not made that error, Button would have held the lead of the race when the event was stopped.

As arrogant as the FIA can be, it amazes that they can’t even handle a safety car situation properly. I don’t know that they could score a Top Fuel drag race.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.