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As the guy who both runs the NHRA national events and the Competition Department, Graham Light, Senior VP of Racing Operations, is the most visible of the NHRA management team. He has become the de facto face of the NHRA to the public, because whenever there is any news or controversy regarding an NHRA event, Graham Light is the face on TV explaining or justifying NHRA’s position.
Because he has been so visible he has taken a lot of grief, some of it deserved, some of it not. Part of the problem is that the NHRA management seems to be bent on not informing their fans, racers, and sponsors of all the sides of an issue. They have something of a bunker mentality, which often leads the press, the public, and drag racing businesses to come to conclusions they wouldn’t come to if the NHRA would simply communicate better.
The latest example of this involves the nitro classes and ensuring at least a sixteen or more car field. There is no doubt that the NHRA is having difficulty getting full fields in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes. There is also no doubt that Graham Light and the NHRA have gone out of their way to do whatever they can to work with the low-budget racers to get them to the races.
This is where the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished part comes in.
Last week after the AHRA race at San Antonio was cancelled, two Funny Car racers, Jack Wyatt and Dale Creasy Jr. -- who had planned to race with the AHRA -- suddenly had no place to race. So they called (remember this, it will be important later) the NHRA to try and enter the Topeka event on Monday, May 17, but never got anyone at the NHRA offices on the phone. The NHRA rules states that all competitors must let the NHRA know they are coming by one o’clock California time on the Monday before a national event.
Wyatt admits that neither he nor Creasy were able to do that by the cut-off time. They were finally able to reach Light on Tuesday, May 18, after the cutoff time. Although at the time there were sixteen cars entered in Funny Car, Light said he would allow both Creasy and Wyatt to come and race. Wyatt and Creasy started making the arrangements for flying crew in and securing all the other inventory necessary to race at Topeka. Then late Tuesday night, according to Wyatt, they got a call from Graham Light.
“He was very apologetic and you could tell from his voice he wasn’t happy,” Wyatt told me. “He told us that a couple of Funny Car teams that were going to be at Topeka were raising hell with him because he had allowed Wyatt and Creasy to come despite the fact that they missed the one o’clock deadline.”
So, now Wyatt and Creasy Jr. wouldn’t be allowed to race at Topeka.
With only sixteen cars at the race all of the pre-entered teams would qualify and receive the $10,000 first round money. If Creasy and Wyatt had been allowed to race and if they qualified, two NHRA regulars might have ended up only with the $3,000 that NHRA pays the 17th and 18th qualifiers at their national events. The two teams that complained evidently weren’t willing to take the chance on qualifying.
As it turns out, one of the sixteen cars that was pre-entered at Topeka, Dale Creasy Sr., dropped out and the Funny Car field now will be short. So the ticket-buying public will once again be subjected to an NHRA race where qualifying is virtually meaningless.
Wyatt says that Light has assured them that he and the rest of the NHRA management will do what they can to get racers like Wyatt and Creasy to the national events to ensure the NHRA’s paying customers get their money’s worth. Light also recommended that Wyatt and Creasy pre-enter on the Internet for the rest of the NHRA schedule, which would solve the issue in the future.
“I want everyone to know that despite what you might read or hear Graham Light did everything he could to get us in the event,” Wyatt said. “In the end, we didn’t obey the rules so we lost. It’s our fault, not the NHRA’s.”
So let’s give credit where credit is due. Graham Light and the NHRA did all they could even to the point of bending the rules, but in the end it was not the NHRA that prevented those two racers from racing or caused the fans to have to watch a “short” Fuel field, but rather some of the Funny Car teams. Money is tight and possibly losing the $7,000 difference between qualifying and first alternate was just not acceptable to the teams who complained. Never mind that the fans get hosed once again.
Graham and the NHRA tried to do a good deed but in the end they just got hammered for trying.I say this is just one more example of how NHRA drag racing and its drag racers have changed. As my pal Steve Earwood says, “It’s not about the money… it’s about the MONEY!”