In a recent technical bulletin, the NHRA announced that SFI-approved head and neck restraints would be mandated for Jr. Drag Racing League competitors starting in June of 2020.
The technical bulletin reads: The NHRA Technical Department has announced new Junior Drag Racing League safety requirements for the 2020 season. Beginning June 1, 2020, all drivers in the Trainee, Youth, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced and Jr. Comp categories will be required to wear a head and neck restraint/system meeting SFI 38.1. Additionally, beginning January 1, 2020, roll-cage padding meeting SFI Spec 45.1 or SFI 45.2 will be mandatory anywhere a driver’s helmet may come in contact with roll-cage components during an accident.
“Children’s neck strength is not the same as an adult’s,” explains Glen Gray, Technical Administrative Executive of the NHRA. “That’s what really drove this decision to put head and neck restraints on our Juniors. Younger kids just don’t have the muscle strength in their necks that adults do. We mandate head and neck restrains for higher speed vehicles, but not our lower speed vehicles. But those are adults driving the lower speed vehicles. These Jr. Dragster racers can be anywhere from a five-year-old to an 18-year-old.“
The NHRA reports that somewhere around 20-30-percent of Jr. Dragster racers nationwide already wear the soon-to-be required piece of safety equipment. Its seven Division Directors have all reported about the same number of children who already have a head and neck restraint (These numbers are an estimation and not an exact figure).
Although children’s neck strength is a major factor for this decision, it will have other benefits for the young racers. Some track promoters have seen children picking up bad habits from older racers, and this may help curb some of those actions.
“Lots of kids are trying to lean forward to judge the stripe better, just like their parents or friends do in big cars,” explains Tyler Crossnoe, Vice President of Virginia Motorsports Park and Series Director of the PDRA. “The issue with this is that their helmets are getting forward of the roll cage and causing a major safety issue, so I see why the rule was put in place to help with this issue. For the ‘when a kid rolls a Jr. Dragster over finish line racing,’ instance—this rule might save a life without a kid’s head hanging out of the cage. If a child is going to go further in racing, they need to get used to wearing helmet restraints going into faster dragsters, door cars, etc.”
Tommy Franklin is the owner of the PDRA, as well as a two-time world champion in the series’ Pro Nitrous class, but he’s also a dad. His 17-year-old daughter, Amber, is also a PDRA world championship-winning Jr. Dragster racer. Amber’s younger sister, Ashley, also races a Jr. Dragster. We caught up with the racing family and got their thoughts on the new rule.
“I have used the Simpson Hybrid Pro neck restraint since I started racing,” explains Amber Franklin, the 2017 PDRA Pro Jr. Dragster world champion. “As a driver, there are no limitations to what I can and can’t see. I am still able to judge the finish line just as much as if I didn’t have the device. I appreciate the efforts being made to keep my competitors and me safe. I am blessed to have parents that have always required me to wear the safety gear that will keep me safe.”
“There is nothing that I would hate to see more than one of our future stars of drag racing to get hurt,” explains Tommy Franklin, who also owns Virginia Motorsports Park with his wife, Judy. “So I think it’s a great idea for every Jr. Dragster driver to use a head and neck restraint. I understand it’s an added expense, but can you really put a price on your child? The manufacturers of these devices have made great strides in allowing the drivers to have great mobility while strapped in correctly, so it doesn’t create any kind of disadvantage while wearing one. These devices have proven to save lives or personal damage. In addition to that, as a father, I feel it’s best for them to get used to using these devices now so that they are prepared for their next stage of drag racing.”
At the end of the day, this is a move that will make our young racers safer and hopefully prevent any on-track accidents from becoming tragic events. Agree with it or not, the new rule is here and our Jr. Dragster racers will be a little more protected.