|Date: 6/16/2010 12:09:11 AM|
State Police Investigates N.J. Drag Racing Death
By Walter Elliott
ENGLISHTOWN -- The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series departed from Old Bridge Township Raceway Park June 14 - leaving the dragstrip owners and the New Jersey State Police Racing Control Unit behind on how to prevent a crash similar to one that killed Neal V. Parker here June 14.
The family of Parker, 58, has meanwhile scheduled a funeral for the self-employed excavator in Millville for 11 a.m. June 18.
Parker had just made a 249 mph practice run on the strip when he lined up his 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo "Excavator" Top Alcohol Funny Car to make his qualification run about noon June 11. Witnesses said that his braking parachutes had failed to deploy after his timed run.
"The Excavator" then shot through the shutdown area, sand trap and a capture net before running into a layer of water-filled barrels. Parker was declared dead of fatal head injuries at the scene.
The State Police RCU, in a standard operating practice, conducted a three hour investigation before allowing any further racing activity. The State Police and Motor Vehicles Commission have had direct control of any racing or public speed demonstrations since 1952.
NHRA and Raceway Park officials resumed qualifications in Parker's honor after announcing the veteran racer's death and holding a moment of silence. That and a five-hour rain delay June 13 pushed the 41st NHRA SuperNationals' finals into Monday afternoon.
The SuperNational's winners are Larry Dixon in Top Fuel, Bob Tasca III in Funny Car, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock, Michael Phillips in Pro Stock Motorcycle and Frank Manzo in Top Alcohol Funny Car.
Witnesses said that Parker's crash resembled that of NHRA Top Fuel Champion Scott D. Kalitta, who was killed here June 21, 2008. Parachute failures figured in both crashes, although the State Police found that an engine fire aboard Kalitta's DHL Toyota Solera Funny Car had damaged his parachutes.
Kalitta's car, which was going 300 mph at the time, ran down the quarter-mile through the net and sand trap before running into a net support pole. 1994-95 titlist Kalitta, 46, of Palmetto, Fla., died of subsequent injuries.
Raceway Park and NHRA officials responded to the July 2, 2008 State Police report on Kalitta's crash. Track officials removed the particular pole and added netting and water barrels. The NHRA cut their timed one quarter-mile run lengths for their Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions to a fifth-mile.
"Englishtown," as the originally-named Madison Twp. Raceway Park is more commonly known, was opened by the Knapp family July 4, 1964. The drag strip, located alongside a small airfield, has since opened a small club racing road course and a motorcycle motocross circuit.
Motorsportsmemorial.org lists two other deaths at the dragstrip. Parachute failures were also found in the fatal runs of Joseph Allocco, of Holmdel, Sept. 9, 1972 and of Jerry Studnicka, of Chicago, June 15, 1977.
Parker, a 38-year IHRA racer, switched to the NHRA in 2009. He is survived by his wife. two sisters, a brother and several neices and nephews. Donations in lieu of flowers are to go to The American Heart Association, 1 Union St., Suite 301 Robbinsville, NJ 08691.
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