GUEST COLUMN w/ Mike Cavalieri

VOLUME XIX,  NUMBER 3 - March  2017

Mike Cavalieri:

Are We Going To Do This...Or Just Screw Around?

by Mike Cavalieri


Mike Cavalieri (at right) is owner of Cavalieri Racing in Omaha and is the tuner for Paul Romine’s “Man O’ War” AA Funny Car team. (Jeff Burk photo)


As the title says...are we going to do this or just screw around? That is a saying that a very good friend of mine, Jay Armstrong, used to tell me when we were racing together. There were so many other great one liners that could apply to mine or anyone else's racing career. Who could ever forget the late great Clayton Harris...he was always saying "Shouldn't outta done that" or another good friend, Marshall Topping, after almost dying 20 years ago in Gainesville..."Be Spectacular" or, wait, my all-time favorite..."Yes, officer, my name is Mike Cavalieri, and I must have left my wallet at home." That one is credited to Big Louie, a guy that a lot like the Riddler or Darth Vader, should have used his efforts to do good versus evil.


At any rate, are we going to do this or just screw around? This is a very apt description of where we are with the nostalgia nitro funny car movement at the present time. Sure, we are starting the 2017 season and the March Meet is upon us, but with the allegedly temporary departure of the IHRA for the upcoming season, there is a void in the schedule for quite a few racers. Fortunately, there is a revival of the Drag Racing Online series for this year, and I for one am looking forward to getting back out with a highly competitive group of racers that will hopefully come from all over the country.


While I know there are a considerable number of running nostalgia nitro funny cars, it seems that there are a myriad of reasons why there are low car counts around the US. Part of this is perception. By that, I am referring to the premise that everything should pay well, with very little up front expense. I remember when I raced motocross for so many years, and the ritual consisted of getting ready Saturday night, going to the track Sunday morning, paying to get in, paying to enter your specific class, and having a great time competing against your buddies and total strangers for an afternoon. You knew going in that you were going to spend "X" amount of money and that was the cost of having a good time.


Fast forward to today and the nitro funny car world. It is possible that with so many changes through the years, that the concepts that worked well in the '70s and '80s are almost unobtainable. And just because the IHRA went on temporary hiatus doesn't mean the world is coming to an end for all of us. Take the big show as an example; except for a couple of times a year, and without exception, there is nowhere else for any of these teams to race or make any extra money. The days of the AHRA Summernationals or any number of "Night of Fire" races have all gone away. So have so many of the privateer nitro racers of years past. While everyone bitches and complains about the Big Show and all the issues associated with it...the folks over there have learned to adapt to their surroundings and hopefully make the best of it.

At this point, if you have a nitro funny car, or any race car for that matter, you have to decide what you want to do. Keep in mind, the most beneficial thing for you as a racer is to do something that will appeal to a fairly wide range of people...let's call them paying spectators. Until the funny car racers of today establish themselves as a "must see" event, it is going to be hard to elevate the category from a local success, as in the March Meet, California Hot Rod Reunion, and World Series, to something that people will want to be a part of nationwide. Take for example Street Outlaws. I know that to a certain segment of the racing fraternity this evokes a few negatives, but there is no overlooking the fact that they have a huge fan following, have become household names in many racing circles, and -- wait for it -- generate a huge ad revenue for their network. Their viewership is almost 10 times that of the NHRA and it is all wrapped up in a tidy package that lasts an hour, and on occasion two hours. No one knows how fast these cars are, it is just an exhibit of pure drag racing...first to the stripe wins. Can you imagine how this would work for the nostalgia nitro cars of today?


Here is just one idea I came up with while I spent some quality family time in a cardiac ICU. Take what works in 2017 and form it around the significant historical aspects of our sport and market it as a tidy 3-4 hour package start to finish. As an example, you get a track to book in one of your races. Now the key here is "races" because, unlike a booked-in match race, the object is to win. As another favorite saying of mine goes, "It pays better to win."


You take a page out of the local motocross scene and charge every racer to enter. This is to enhance the payout...not to put more money in the promoter’s pocket. There will be no qualifying, instead the six or eight drivers will draw for position...just like we did in Lake Elsinore or Fort Calhoun. There will be a coin flip for lane choice, and a prompt start time will be adhered to. While it is best to use a regular Christmas Tree to stage, let the starting line official flash the start. Here is the best part: you turn off the score boards and only announce the winner and by how much.


If it will work for an assortment of door cars in Oklahoma City, it will work anywhere. And fear not, because you will get a time slip at the end of the run so you will know how well you did. The fans will see two cars actually competing and pushing the limits to go rounds, and in the end they will not care one bit what the times were.


Of course you could always do something like the Fantasy Bidder contests they have at the various televised car auctions and have people sign up online and guess the ET of each car and award sponsor provided swag to the folks that got closest to the actual run times. And the best part the end of the night, one car made the most money based on driving skill and performance, yet every car made a decent income and the show was over by midnight. Everyone gets paid, and the more rounds you go, the more money you get. I know there will be some folks that will complain that they need more money than first-round loser but consider this: Here is a classic case in point... tractor pulling, these racers have every bit as much money invested in their operation, and they all pay to get in, and except for the top five or six tractors per class, they don't get paid. They go from town to town, night after night during the summer and the fans turn out in numbers much bigger than you would ever imagine. And why? They just want to compete. Fewer days on the road, fewer motel rooms, and fewer days of the risk of damage to rental cars; this is a win-win for everyone, especially the rental cars!


People today are all about instant gratification, that's why you can spend 15-20 dollars just a few feet from the gate leading to your airplane allowing you to be two minutes ahead of the next passenger. I know that there is always going to be the fan that wants to experience the thrill of three or four days at a particular track, soaking up all the entertainment that the particular venue has to offer, Indy comes to mind. But for the vast majority of families that want to spend some of their budget on entertainment, they want the "movie" experience where they plan on spending a few hours together and most importantly they want to be entertained. I am not in any way advocating the end of conventional two- or three-day events, and a qualify-to-race format, I am merely suggesting the options that are possible to enhance the product.


The product is you, the funny car or dragster racer and the time for this is as soon as possible because time is one thing that we will all have plenty of if we don't get something going to make what we consider a passion and in some cases an obsession a popular happening. I do not think it would be a stretch to say that with some proper marketing and willing participants we could make nostalgia racing as popular as the big show, and wouldn't it be exciting to see it be more financially viable? There is no reason why Shawn Bowen, Paul Romine, Jason Rupert, John Hale, or any of the other dozens of super dedicated funny car racers shouldn't be household names like Big Chief, Farm Truck or Murder Nova.


So, are we going to do this or just screw around? Considering there is almost a clean slate for this season to start over from, just about any idea would be a good idea, and I am willing to contribute my time and effort to the cause, not because I can but because I want to. If they can get thousands of people to spectate for an internet induced match race in the parking lot of an abandoned stadium, then this should be a walk in the park.


I know that while the schedule is for at least five races, I am so looking forward to the 2017 version of the DRO AA/FC Challenge and from what has been reported already, there will be an influx of West Coast guys coming east of Omaha as Bob Seger used to say, and I think they will find the change of scenery a welcome one. I know a few great places to eat, and fans are fans...if you give them something to remember, then you have made a fan for life. I know we all want to be doing this for the money, but Burt Reynolds also mentioned something about the fun and glory...of course he emphasized the money. One thing I knew going into the day at the dirt bike races was that the most I could hope for is a trophy, but I was willing to invest in the race because I wanted to win...and if the future of our sport can succeed then a lot like a match-race result...we all win. So remember, it's 106 miles to Chicago, we have a full tank of gas, a half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses...Hit it!


In closing, there are so many tools at our disposal to help make this work. We have social media, internet broadcasts, Youtube, and a variety of chat rooms and websites dedicated to this cause. If we as fans and racers use the internet for the good of the sport and not being a keyboard commando, then the idea that drag racing can be back on top is not that far fetched. Just remember, it wasn't that long ago that people paid by the minute to call Dave McClelland to hear him read off the results of the drag races; at least it was more virtual than waiting a month for the next issue of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated to see who won back in the 1970's.


Well, it is time for me to get back to work. I need to de-magnetize the VCR so I can get my Diamond P fix, or maybe I will just screw around...and play pinball.


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