Racing’s Next Electric Avenue Could Be a Quarter-Mile NHRA Drag Strip

Electric Avenue?

Well, maybe a quarter-mile at a time.

While at Gainesville Raceway in Florida for the Gatornationals in March, the 70-year-old National Hot Rod Association held a panel discussion as part of a meeting to gauge interest in all-electric racing, led by Ned Walliser, vice president of competition for the NHRA.

BY STEVEN COLE SMITH, AUTO WEEK

The response? “Overwhelming,” Walliser said. It isn’t a matter of will it happen, Walliser said, it’s a matter of when. In fact, the NHRA already has a set of rules in place for electric bracket and junior racing; this meeting was all about the next steps.

Representatives from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) Ford, Dodge, General Motors and Toyota joined electric-oriented speed merchants, teams, drivers, fans and broadcast crews – as well as safety representatives—in a discussion of whether electric racing should remain at the grassroots level with OEM electric cars, or include the possibility of purpose-built electric dragsters.

Before we, or the NHRA, go any farther, let’s make one thing clear: We won’t be going to a national program and have the roar of Top Fuel be replaced by the hum of Top Electric. “Let’s make sure we understand the critical takeaway from the meeting among the OEMs and the performance and safety manufacturers is not to replace any existing class or category,” Walliser said. “EVs would not race against existing categories. The intent of that meeting was to start the process, and think through how we develop the individual categories to race.”

As local fire departments have learned, as well as existing electric race series like Formula E have learned, there’s a special set of protocols that must be followed when an electric car malfunctions or crashes.

“We’ve already been down that path with our Safety Safari people, with the eCOPO Camaro and eCobra Jet Mustangs we’ve run. We’ve been through that training, which will evolve as technology continues to evolve.

“And it will change as the companies change and increase voltage to batteries and electric motors—safety concerns are of the utmost importance. We will facilitate what the OEMs want to produce, but it has to fit in the conversation of safety.”

Also, boundaries must be set. One manufacturer may want to run a 10-second quarter-mile, another seven seconds—there has to be some parity. Electric cars, for that matter, really excel in the eighth-mile, given their incredible torque.
While it wasn’t an overriding subject of this meeting, Walliser expects future meetings might address electric hybrid power. Pro Modifieds can choose turbo, nitrous or supercharging for a boost—supposing a comparable boost was available from electric motors?

For now, expect more meetings soon, especially as the other OEMs involved in electric power learn how committed the NHRA is. And expect more exhibitions like the match race between a supercharged Ford Cobra Jet Mustang and an electric Cobra Jet 1400, the all-electric Harley Davidson fielded by Vance & Hinds, and the 200-mph pass by an electric dragster.

It won’t happen overnight, Walliser said, but it will happen soon. Plug in, turn on, and let’s go racing.

“Our tagline is speed for all,” Walliser said. “We’re just trying to wrap our arms around it all.”

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