Round one of racing for this past weekend’s NHRA national event at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, KS, was not kind to members of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series. Four cars were significantly damaged in three separate accidents, with the worst being the supercharged ’63 Corvette of South Carolina’s Jeremy Ray after a scary and spectacular rollover beside Erica Enders in the first pair out.
Two races later it was Todd Tutterow and Steven Whiteley involved in a two-car crash after Tutterow lost control of his supercharged ’68 Camaro and crossed into Whiteley’s path just past the finish line. Then, in the eighth and final pairing of the round, Alex Laughlin pancaked his blown 2018 Camaro against the left guardwall shortly after launching against Mike Janis.
Fortunately, all four drivers emerged from their wrecks without serious injury, but with the next event just days away this coming weekend at Bristol Dragway in Tennessee, the NHRA Pro Mod car count might take a hit.
Regardless, whenever so many accidents occur in such a short period, suspicion typically arises over track prep and condition, with this time being no different. Tutterow, however, remained diplomatic in addressing the elephant in the room.
“I don’t want to blame nobody. I mean it’s my own fault. My car kinda’ was driving left all the way and I was just going for the win and it kinda’ got away from me,” the third-place qualifier admitted.
However, “King Tutt” couldn’t help but also observe NHRA officials briefly held him and Whiteley up just prior to them staging in order to make one last, literally hands-on check of the racing surface before giving them the all-clear signal.
Just seconds later, Tutterow’s car drifted left out of the racing groove by the time he’d reached the 660-foot halfway point. From there it was getting so far out of shape that by the 1,000-foot finish line for the Top Fuel and Funny Cars, he opted to hit the chutes and shut it down just before crossing the quarter-mile finish.
Tutterow could not maintain his lane, however, and wound up sideswiping the driver’s door and left rear fender of Whiteley’s blown ’18 Camaro. From there, he dirt-tracked his car sideways at high speed back across the track and masterfully kept it off the left wall while bringing it to a halt. Meanwhile, Whiteley managed to bring his battered machine to rest just a few feet away, trailing what NHRA announcer Joe Castello dubbed a “carbon-fiber storm.”
“Balooshi was leaking oil,” Tutterow contended of the last Pro Mod entry to go down the left lane before him. “But then they said it was okay and told us to go on. And I’m not saying there was oil on the race track, but after we crashed–but before the next cars go down–they go out there and spray the race track. So, if it was okay for me, why was it not gonna’ be okay for everybody else? But hindsight is 20:20, right?
“It’s really just the NHRA tracks themselves, they do not have the track prep that we normally run on, and it’s got a real narrow groove,” he added. “They say there’s no rubber over there anyway, so if you get out of the groove you’re kind of on your own. And they don’t spray the top end as much for the fuel cars and it allows the track to be a little slippery down there. It’s just different is all.”
CompetitionPlus.com reached out to the NHRA with questions about their track prep details but have yet to receive a response.
Tutterow explained the damage to his car “looked a lot worse than it was,” with the chassis sustaining no significant harm at all. However, the car did need an entirely new body, so by Monday morning, the Tutterow team had already dropped it off at chassis builder Jerry Bickel’s shop in Missouri. Then they all headed back home to Yadkinville, NC, to prepare for the Bristol event.
“We’ve got a new car at my shop that I’ve already been out testing in and we’ll bring that one up to Bristol,” Tutterow confirmed. “It’s another Bickel car, a late-model Camaro, the same car that Mike Castellana wrecked at Houston (in March). We just got it back, tested and running, but I have a brand-new car coming from Bickel, too, so this one will be just kind of a fill-in deal. It’s just a good thing we have some spare parts, spare cars that we can kinda’ pass around here.”
Tutterow also expressed regret about involving Whiteley in the accident, but stressed it’s a risk all drivers and teams must accept. “I do really hate that Steven Whiteley got caught up in my wreck, but we all kind of sign up for that. Things happen and there are consequences sometimes for what we do. These cars have got a lot of power, run big speeds, short wheelbase, don’t have really big wings on ’em, and we’re trying to get every little bit of speed out of them that we can,” he said. “But I do hate it for that team because they’ve got a really nice race car that they’ve got to fix now, too. But stuff happens; it’s drag racing.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019