NHRA approves enclosed cockpits

The NHRA has granted conceptual approval for enclosed cockpits on Top Fuel dragsters, NHRA officials announced Wednesday.

However, a few hurdles remain before the NHRA gives final approval for teams to use the canopy enclosure, which could become a revolutionary safety advancement for the sport.

The prototype canopy was first used by seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher on his Army dragster in preseason testing earlier this year. Schumacher now expects to have the enclosed cockpit on his dragster at an NHRA event later this season.

"I think we will," Schumacher said. "We still have a little ways to go here, but this is the right step. I think NHRA officials took it upon themselves to say, 'We need to move forward with this.' We all want to see it for the safety of our sport."

Don Schumacher Racing officials, along with engineers from Aerodine Composites, designed the enclosure. During the January testing session in Florida, some competing teams felt the enclosed cockpit gave Tony Schumacher's dragster an aerodynamic advantage.

The NHRA would not approve usage of the canopy until aero tests were conducted.

NHRA officials also wanted to make sure the canopy was designed so a driver easily could remove it after an accident, along with having fire extinguishers in the cockpit, as is the case with Funny Cars.

The NHRA also wanted to make sure every team would have access to purchase the canopies once approval for use was given.

Results of aero testing, conducted by Purdue University, found the enclosure did cause a slight aerodynamic advantage. So NHRA technical officials designed a .75-inch whicker bill (a thin, flat blade) for the top of the canopy to negate the aero advantage.

"We didn't do this to go fast," Tony Schumacher said. "The only advantage I care about is life expectancy. It also makes the car heavier, but I don't care. It's about safety, period."

NHRA officials also have tested fire hose kick-out panels for access to the enclosure in case of a fire. Those are undergoing final approval now.

The NHRA hopes to have a final review and give final approval for the canopy in the next few weeks.