Don Schumacher Racing has been open throughout the development of the cockpit canopy that finally debuted this past weekend at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway during the Lucas Oil Nationals.
But evidently the other drivers and crew chiefs who took a peek at it on Tony Schumacher’s U.S. Army Dragster and asked questions about it were just lookie-loos, like one would find at a car dealership on a Saturday afternoon. So far Aerodine isn’t seeing a mad rush of orders for the device.
Reaction to the canopy has been lukewarm.
Top Fuel winner Morgan Lucas had nothing really positive to say about the canopy or the timing of the NHRA’s approval of it. Kalitta Motorsports vice-president Jim Oberhofer (who is Doug Kalitta’s crew chief, as well) questioned its value but didn’t write it off completely. Top Fuel owner-driver Bob Vandergriff joined Oberhofer in watching the weight issue with the canopy before making up his mind whether to join Schumacher in having one on his dragster.
We think there are some potential fire hazard issues that have not been addressed and that the added weight will make the cars more difficult to stop. – Morgan Lucas
As for the sanctioning body, he said, “The NHRA’s tech department doesn’t always have the best timing when it comes to some of its rulings. I believe that a change this significant needs time — like the off-season — for teams to research the equipment themselves before it becomes accepted for competition use.”
Following his victory Sunday, he said, “To be honest with you, personally, I don’t like it. I feel like I’ve had enough fires. I know it’s sealed around the cage, but it’s not sealed off everywhere. And I feel like there’s potential for there to be a dead-air space — not that I know. That’s why I’m not a crew chief. I just get in the car and drive, but in my opinion, I like the open cockpit.” (He added coyly, “I might have T-shirts coming out.”)
Vandergriff took a wait-and-see approach. “We haven’t seen it in competition and that could change the initial opinion, for the better or the worse, depending on what we see from the implementation of it on the DSR cars,” the owner-driver of the C&J Energy Services Dragster said. “I’m not sure anything should be allowed two-thirds of the way through the season due to the unknown effect it could provide for the DSR teams. I’d probably have preferred it be allowed starting with the 2013 season, but with it being allowed now we will see the results before next year starts. So pluses and minuses on the timing of the approval.”
The extra poundage has him concerned. Vandergriff, who said that “currently we are not ordering it,” added, “As a bigger driver we can’t afford the weight increase to our car. If NHRA raised the weight limit to allow for the increase in weight the canopy and it related components add to the cars, then we would seriously consider adding one. I’m all for safety improvements, and at face value this appears to be one.”
Oberhofer had reservations about the canopy’s need. He asked drag-racing pioneer Connie Kalitta is he could recall if any Top Fuel driver had been struck in the cockpit by debris or birds or any other foreign objects, and Kalitta said no. Ultimately, the safety factor and the added weight, he indicated, are the top two factors to consider.
“From what I understand, the whole system adds a little over 30 pounds. I would have to leave that up to Doug [Kalitta] whether he would want something like that on the car. Doug Kalitta is not Doug Herbert size, but he’s also not Antron Brown size, either. I want the car safe. And if there is a safety advantage of having it, then OK. But right now I don’t see that with that thing,” Oberhofer said. “I feel our cars we have right now [including Dave Grubnic's] are pretty safe. Doug feels safe driving the car. That’s the most important thing.”
Although Lucas appears to be the only one who spoke against the canopy, and then only when asked, Tony Schumacher has been defensive from the start about the canopy.
He had qualified No. 1 at Brainerd, but DSR colleague Antron Brown — whose car didn’t have the canopy — matched his elapsed time. Schumacher took the top spot because of speed advantage. And Schumacher claimed that others were attributing his performance to the presence of the canopy.
It’s unclear who criticized him and his No. 1 qualifying effort, but a clearly annoyed Schumacher said, “I think it was a godsend that we went out and ran the same number both times when we ran against my teammate who doesn’t have a canopy. I’m so sick of already hearing whining people out there saying, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s all the canopy.’ The car beside me doesn’t have one and he ran the same exact time. Get over it. If you don’t like what I am running, then put one on your car and run just as fast.
The thing’s about keeping people alive, and I am sick of hearing people whine about not getting one. – Tony Schumacher
He threatened to call out those who disagree with him by name but stopped short.
But he continued to insist, “The car is great and meant to keep me alive. It’s not like we pulled this out of the trailer and said, ‘Oops – surprise!’ We had this car out in testing. We invited every driver to sit in it. They could order it now. We don’t own it. Aerodine can sell it to anyone. We don’t care. We want people in it. If I thought there was an advantage, I sure as heck wouldn’t want anyone in it.
“We want to keep people safe and follow what Wally Parks started. I want a safer place to race,” Schumacher said. “This is not an advantage. This is what racing should be. We all have it on the car to keep people from getting killed. Is that bold enough? God says to be bold.”
Now it’ll be especially intriguing to see what Lucas’ T-shirt have to say.