NHRA reduces distance of Top, Fuel, Funny Car races to 1,000 feet

The NHRA took a major and somewhat controversial step toward safety Wednesday by shortening the distance of Top Fuel and Funny Car races to 1,000 feet instead of the standard quarter-mile run of 1,320 feet.

The change goes into effect this weekend at the Mopar Mile High Nationals in Denver. NHRA officials are calling it an interim measure while the investigation continues into the accident that caused the death of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta.

Kalitta was killed during qualifying for the NHRA event at Englishtown, N.J. on June 17. His car exploded and ran past the runoff area, crashing into a camera boom.

Several NHRA drivers, including Funny Car legend John Force, defending Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher and six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein, asked the NHRA to make the change while determining what long-term changes are needed to make the sport safer.

Bernstein is the president of the PRO, Professional Racers Organization.

"The board members wholeheartedly and unanimously support this decision," Bernstein said. "We want to thank NHRA for listening to our input and suggestions to incorporate these changes. This may be a temporary change, and we recognize it is not the total answer."

The new distance gives the drivers a longer shutdown area and a better chance to slow the cars down in the event of an accident. But it also will render all the speeds and elapsed times into a new category that isn't comparable with the current NHRA records.

"It is not lost on any of us that this constitutes a change in our history," Bernstein said. "But it's the most immediate adjustment we can make in the interest of safety, which is foremost on everyone's mind.

"We also want to thank Connie Kalitta [Scott's father and team owner] for his invaluable input. He has been a rock through these difficult times."

The NHRA is examining five areas of concern where changes could be implemented:

• Engine failure that lead to explosions.

• Parachute mounting techniques and materials that are more fire resistant.

• Braking efficiency when cars lose downforce if the Funny Car body comes off the car.

• Shutdown areas at all racetracks.

• The impact of reducing speeds.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.