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Nitro Shots: The Safety Dance

In the wake of the accident that took the life of Justin Wilson, this week’s Open Wheel Wednesday put forth the idea that something similar to the protection found on a Top Fuel dragster might work to at least partially enclose the cockpit on an Indy car. It’s sad that so often in motorsports safety, and what could or should be done to improve it, is examined in response to a tragedy.

Still, let’s not take anything away from the many things that have been developed over the years. In NHRA, it goes back to the origins of the Safety Safari back in the 1950s. As for the cars, among other changes over the years, old school dragsters were open cockpit cars, but today’s models do a much better job of protecting drivers.

Tracks didn’t used to have catch nets at the end. Fan or not of the shortened distance, the fact is ever-faster Nitro cars and tracks with insufficient space to stop them in an emergency situation is not a situation to be played with. Some places just shouldn’t run the full quarter-mile or the cars need to be slowed down if they must, and let’s not forget how that conclusion was settled upon.

Motorsports, like pretty much anything else in life, will never be 100 percent safe. Life itself is not 100 percent safe. Things happen. While it would be a wonderful thing if the incidents and sometimes tragedies that led to the much safer sports we enjoy today hadn’t happened because someone had been innovative beforehand, we can at least be grateful that the hard lessons learned were not lost.

What’s News?

* Fan voting is now open for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, taking place next week as part of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. (For more on the actual event, see NHRA 101 below.) Fans can vote by clicking here. Voting is open until noon Eastern on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The fan vote determines how many lottery balls each driver will be assigned during the lottery drawings on Wednesday, Sept. 2. The winner of that drawing will then face off against the top seed in the opening round of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.

Top Fuel drivers who are eligible are Dave Connolly, Larry Dixon, Brittany Force, Terry McMillen, Clay Millican and J.R. Todd. In Funny Car, Alexis DeJoria, Courtney Force, John Hale, Chad Head, Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon and Del Worsham are vying for the vote.

* With just one more race remaining in the regular season, a number of competitors have locked down their spots in the Countdown. In Top Fuel, the top four drivers, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Richie Crampton and Larry Dixon have already earned their spots. Funny Car boasts six locked in drivers: Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson, Jr., John Force, Del Worsham and Ron Capps. Eight of the top 10 Pro Stock drivers, Erica Enders, Greg Anderson, Chris McGaha, Jason Line, Allen Johnson, Larry Morgan, Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray, have already gotten their tickets to the Countdown field. Three Pro Stock Motorcycle riders, Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana, Jr.,and Andrew Hines, are also locked in. The rest will go or go home in Indy in two weeks.

Driver Profile: Jonathan Gray

NHRA 2015 Jonathan Gray headshot courtesy NHRA Media
Pro Stock driver Jonathan Gray. (Photo courtesy NHRA Media)

Category: Pro Stock
Hometown: Carlsbad, New Mexico
Date of birth: June 15, 1981
2015 car: Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Justin Elkes
Team Owner: Johnny Gray

Career Highlights:
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 1/3
Best points finish: 7th, 2014
Career best ET: 6.465, Charlotte 1, 2015
Career best speed: 214.72, Charlotte 1, 2015

2014 – Made Pro Stock debut at Gainesville; scored first career win at Charlotte 2; runner-up finishes at Epping and Dallas; made Countdown to the Championship field in his first season.

Some things most people don’t know about Jonathan: Racing runs in his family. His father is retired NHRA racer Johnny Gray and Jonathan was helping his father with his various cars at the track since his childhood. His brother Shane is his teammate in Pro Stock. Like his brother, he came up through the Lucas Oil Series and is a former Comp Eliminator racer. Jonathan didn’t really have much of an interest in Pro Stock until a conversation with his brother Shane one day over breakfast. Jonathan decided to give it a try, got licensed, and was making his debut at a national event in just a few weeks. He has qualified for every race he has attempted since.

Off the track, Jonathan knows how to fly a small airplane, and although his license has expired, he intends to renew it and start flying again in the near future. His latest interest is farming. He’s been learning to farm this year and spends a lot of time on his tractor in his hay fields in New Mexico when he’s not racing.

Tech Facts

If you are really observant, or dedicated, you might notice this Tech Fact is a repeat, however given events of the week, it seemed a fitting time to include it again. Antron Brown explains the fully enclosed canopy that he and his Don Schumacher Racing teammates use on their Top Fuel dragsters.

NHRA 101

What, exactly, is the Traxxas Nitro Shootout? It’s a bonus event for Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers that takes place in conjunction with the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. It offers both bragging rights and a hefty $100,000 payday to the winner. The points leader after the Brainerd event is automatically the No. 1 seed. The top seven spots go to the first seven drivers in each category to win a race (that would be six if the points leader has not won a race—they would still get the top seed and the six winners would seed in after). The eighth and final spot is filled via a fan vote and a lottery-style drawing. See the news section above for the eligible drivers for this year’s fan vote and the link to vote.

Some drivers are campaigning for the fan vote. The Force sisters have paired up to encourage fans to vote them both in. Terry McMillen went for the cute factor and enlisted the help of his young son for this campaign video.

Number of the Week: 9

Number of U.S. Nationals wins for Tony Schumacher, the most of any driver in any professional category.

Where to Watch

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is off this week but when they return to action it will be for the Big Go. The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals from Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis take place from Sept. 2-7. It’s a Labor Day weekend tradition!

ProgramDate/TimeChannel
AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS
QualifyingFriday, November 10, 6:30 PM ETFS1 (Live)
QualifyingSaturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)
EliminationsSunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)

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About Toni Montgomery

Toni Montgomery
A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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