Gilbert Brule packs his bags; NHRA needs to pull its head out

Posted: August 14, 2012 in Hockey, Racing

Gilbert Brule is headed to Europe?  Sadly, that is exactly the case as the one time Western Hockey League standout has apparently overstayed his welcome in the National Hockey League.  He resorted to signing with Zurich of the Swiss Elite League after no NHL teams wanted to make an offer to the restricted free agent.  Gilbert was drafted sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2005 entry draft and it was all downhill from there.  In his three full seasons with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL, he displayed his incredible scoring abilities posting 185 points (87 goals, 98 assists) in 165 games played.  However, in the NHL those numbers took a huge hit and plummeted to just 95 points (43 goals, 52 assists) in 296 games.  All of those stats are regular season specific; his “Dub” playoff numbers are even more off the charts but he has yet to experience the post season in the NHL.  Yes, Gilbert fell victim to injuries – including the dreaded concussion – but that doesn’t account for all of the bench time he was relinquished to when healthy.

Some say it was differences between him and his head coach in Columbus, Ken Hitchcock.  Some say his life style away from the rink didn’t support the rigors of a hockey life.  Either way, he still struggled along even after transitioning into the Edmonton Oilers organization before finishing this past season with the Phoenix Coyotes.  Gilbert was an insane talent that unfortunately didn’t have the career that so many were positive he’d produce.  As a fan since his Vancouver days, I honestly hope that his stay in Europe is a short one and he rediscovers what went missing so that he can come back and put on a show in the NHL.

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The National Hot Rod Association has given their approval for Top Fuel teams to start using a new canopy to fully enclose the cockpit.  This is being done to improve the safety of the racer but I don’t really believe it will do that.  I honestly see no safety benefit to this new piece of equipment.  I don’t have any numbers in front of me but to my recollection the only death that could be directly contributed to an open cockpit (in the modern technology era anyway) is Darrell Russell in 2004 when a blown tire entered through the roll cage and struck him in the helmet.  The ensuing horrendous crash certainly didn’t help matters.  However, the two prominent NHRA premiere level racing fatalities since then have been in the Funny Car category: Eric Medlen in 2007 and Scott Kalitta in 2008.

For those who don’t know, Funny Cars are powered by the exact same 8,000 horsepower engines as the Top Fuel cars and run on the same tires on the same tracks.  With one notable exception: they are full bodied race cars.  Thus meaning the driver is completely enclosed and better protected from outside elements than the Top Fuel cars are even with the canopies.  The racers who climb into a Top Fuel dragster every weekend know the risks and if they have a problem with it then they can transition over to Funny Cars, but essentially there is no difference as far as I can see that the new “safety” feature will bring anything to the table.  In fact, it could make matters worse by containing the driver in the aftermath of a crash.

The NHRA is not making it mandatory but by allowing Don Schumacher Racing to debut it this weekend, that’s basically what they are doing.  No team will elect to not run the canopy from the simple aerodynamics stand point.  A fully enclosed cockpit will be much faster than the traditional cockpit and no team is going to give up that kind of speed.  Yes, the canopy will have a wicker bill on it to deflect air and create drag.  I am quite skeptical because – depending on its design –  at that speed it could actually create even more down force through the center of the car thus increasing speed and the quickness of cars getting down the track.  Plus, it was Don Schumacher who championed this whole concept.  The same Don Schumacher who owns no less than seven (yes seven) of the teams that compete in the NHRA’s premiere series.  He has a ton of money and has been known to do whatever it takes to win which is evidenced by his owning a quarter of the nitro category teams that race each weekend.

First, NHRA goes and screws up their championship by implementing a playoff style format.  Next, they shorten the track for Top Fuel and Funny Cars from the traditional quarter mile down to 1,000 feet.  Why?  Supposedly for safety following Kalitta’s death.  Now, they go and do this whole canopy thing.  Yes, I’m an advocate of safety in racing and there have been some incredible advances over the past couple of decades but sometimes you can go too far with it.  This is definitely one of those cases.  The racers know the risk.  They accept that risk.  So should the NHRA.

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