State Police Fatal Accident Unit Releases Findings on Drag Strip Crash that Claimed Life of Scott Kalitta
West Trenton, N.J. - The New Jersey State Police has concluded its investigation of the motor vehicle racing crash that claimed the life of NHRA
Top Fuel Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta. The crash happened on June 21, 2008 at 4:20 p.m. during the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNational drag racing event at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
The NJSP Fatal Accident Investigation Unit has provided the following description of the crash:
Scott Kalitta occupied the right lane in a 1/4-mile (qualifying) drag race against opponent Tony Bartone and was operating a 2008 Toyota Solara Top Fuel Funny Car. Shortly after the race began, Bartone’s vehicle experienced an equipment failure and its speed slowed substantially. Moments later, Kalitta’s vehicle experienced a catastrophic mechanical failure resulting in a fuel-fired explosion prior to the quarter-mile finish line. Kalitta’s vehicle crossed the 1/4 mile mark 0.716 seconds later, at a speed of 300.73 MPH. At the time of the explosion, the rear portion of the vehicle’s fiberglass body separated from the vehicle causing deployment of the damaged parachute system.
Evidence discovered in Kalitta’s lane revealed that he had applied mechanical braking and maintained steering control of the vehicle throughout the 2235-foot-long “shutdown” portion of the racetrack. Post crash examination of the vehicle further revealed the clutch system to be locked, maintaining engine power to the rear wheels. Witnesses and audio recordings reveal the vehicle’s engine firing throughout the shutdown portion of the racetrack, which further reinforced the fact that the vehicle’s engine was still providing power for some period of time.
The vehicle continued from the point of engine failure to the end of the racetrack (approx. 2300') on fire over the course of approximately 7.07 seconds. Upon reaching the end of the paved racetrack, Kalitta’s vehicle entered a “run-off” area constructed of pea gravel at a speed of approximately 125 mph and was positioned near the center of the racetrack’s right lane. As Kalitta’s racecar entered the “run-off” area, the front of the vehicle appeared to pitch upward, allowing air under the vehicle’s fiberglass nose resulting in its separation from the chassis. Over the course of the following .5-second, the vehicle took flight and traveled toward the right side of the run-off area and over the western concrete retaining wall. Immediately thereafter, the vehicle impacted a steel post that supported the right side of a cargo net which was in place to stop race vehicles from passing this area of the racetrack. This impact was specific to the right side of the vehicle and caused separation of the right front suspension components and damage to the right side engine exhaust system. The vehicle continued forward and impacted a piece of heavy equipment (JLG model 600S telescopic boom lift vehicle with a specified (dry) weight of 22,750 pounds), which was positioned outside the “run-off” area by the ESPN television crew. This impact caused catastrophic damage to the vehicle and additional separation of chassis components and the vehicle’s engine. Beyond the boom lift vehicle, a Chevrolet van and a Suzuki Ozark ATV, which were also positioned by ESPN television crew, were damaged by collision debris. The largest portion of the race vehicle came to rest in a grassy area 250' south of the shutdown area and 153' from the initial pole impact. Scott Kalitta was contained in this portion of the race vehicle and had sustained fatal blunt force injuries. A review of information provided by Delphi, which was recorded by accelerometers, mounted to the Kalitta vehicle revealed multiple impacts producing over 100G, with some approaching or exceeding 200G. No information was obtained from the RacePac data recorder installed in the Kalitta vehicle. Post mortem examination confirmed that Scott Kalitta’s death was caused by multiple blunt trauma injuries.
The New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit has identified the following items to be noteworthy or contributory in the occurrence of this incident:
The stimulus behind the sequence of events leading to the death of Scott Kalitta was a massive failure of the vehicle’s engine. Although not uncommon in Top Fuel drag racing, the exact diagnosis and chronological succession of the engine failure in this incident was beyond the scope of the State Police investigation. After post-crash inspection of Kalitta’s vehicle components by the NJSP, the vehicle was turned over to the NHRA and, ultimately Kalitta Motorsports.
Fuel Flow Interruption
After failure of the engine in the Kalitta vehicle, a fire ensued which survived for more than seven seconds, throughout the crash sequence. Additionally, fuel continued to be fed to the engine, either residually or via remaining fuel routing from the fuel tank. This engine power handicapped the capability of the mechanical brake system. Had the driver been rendered unconscious or temporarily unable to apply mechanical braking after the engine explosion and parachute failure, the vehicle’s deceleration over the next ˝ mile would have been minimal.
Despite approx. 1832’ of intermittent tire marks to indicate the functionality of all four brake systems, the vehicle’s speed was reduced slightly over 50% in the last ˝ mile of the racetrack. The initial engine explosion and loss of body components, deployment and minimal expansion of the parachute system as well as the vehicle’s suspension system and tire pressure and composition may have contributed to a loss of tire contact, which made braking partially ineffective. Additionally, the clutch system was found to be locked which maintained engine power to the rear wheels.
Insufficient Auxiliary Braking (parachute failure)
The vehicle’s parachute system was deployed (but did not blossom) at the time of the explosion when the rear portion of the vehicle’s fiberglass body separated. Post crash inspection revealed substantial damage to the parachute system. This damage included tearing, burning, and tangling assumed to be caused by the engine explosion, ensuing fire, body separation, and spoilage of air over the remaining vehicle chassis, and high speed ground contact.
Post mortem toxicological analysis of blood obtained from Scott Kalitta during his autopsy revealed the presence of Ethanol at a level of 23 mg/dL. This level converts to a BAC percentage of .02% BAC. This level, 25% of the legal limit for intoxication in the State of New Jersey, remains in violation of NHRA rules (Section 1.7, I., B.1.) as well as N.J.S.A. Title 13 Chapter 62 New Jersey State Motor Vehicle Racetrack Regulations.
Fixed Object Impacts
Upon entering the “run-off” area and impacting the pea gravel, Kalitta’s race vehicle took flight at a speed of approximately 125 MPH. The vehicle sailed over the western retaining wall and its right front tire rubbed the concrete wall before the vehicle impacted the western “catch net” support post. This (8.5" diameter x 7' high) hollow steel post was protected on its northern and southern sides by the concrete barrier by its position within the barrier, but extended above the wall with no attenuation.
After impact with the cargo net support pole, the Kalitta vehicle continued 15' from the pole impact before impacting the cast iron counterbalance portion of an aerial boom lift vehicle, which was in place to position a remote television camera over the center of the racetrack. As the impact continued, the Kalitta vehicle made multiple impacts with this 23,000 lb. vehicle and its extended boom component.
The New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit, as the sole agency with responsibility to regulate the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Racetrack Regulations (N.J.S.A. 13:62) has concluded this investigation and has forwarded all reports to the Office of the Middlesex County Prosecutor for review. After this review, further safety recommendations will be discussed between the NJSP, the NHRA, and all three of New Jersey’s licensed 1/4-mile (drag racing) racetracks.
- All requests for further information into this matter should be made through The New Jersey State Police Office of Public Information at 609-882-2000.
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