News & Analysis

Is Nitro Jam the New Wave of Drag Racing?

I know I’m the new guy on the block at DRO, but I just felt I needed to put some thoughts down about the IHRA event at Salt Lake City that I covered a couple weeks ago.

When is racing just racing for racing’s sake and when is it an entertainment for the fans? Racers have always said, “We hope the fans got their money’s worth.” So, where does the racer end and the entertainer begin? 

This is something that I wanted to find out, so as part of my coverage of the IHRA Nitro Jam in Salt Lake City, I took some time to ask racers and fans about the unique way in which the IHRA now holds their national events.

One year ago at Rocky Mountain Raceway in Salt Lake City, Utah, the IHRA under the new management (again) of FELD Entertainment, decided to test a new way of running a national event. FELD Entertainment Management Company has its basis in family entertainment, such as Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Disney on Ice, and Disney Live, to name their head lining attractions. They also became the owners of the Monster Jam Series (i.e. Monster Trucks) and Super Cross and Arena Cross shows when they purchased IHRA from Live Nation, which had also started the IHRA Nitro Jam name.

The goal of the new IHRA was to provide the fans with a structured and scripted (not in the sense of a predetermined to winner) show in the professional ranks of Top Fuel, Pro Fuel (A/Fuel), and Prostalgia (Pro Nostalgia) Funny Cars, and package it in a three and half to four hour window, thus making it easier for fans to show up and watch. The professional categories run two sessions, and sandwiched in between is some sportsman racing. FELD saw the results of their experiment and deemed it to be a success. Therefore in 2010 FELD scrapped the traditional way of running national events and replaced it with the Nitro Jam format. So if I could plagiarize a word from my DRO colleague Darr Hawthorne, welcome to “Nitro-tainment!”

There are three main professional classes at a Nitro Jam event. All the Top Fuel competitors were pre-determined from the top four cars from 2009 IHRA series points championship, and at selected events two other local/regional cars are brought in. The Pro Fuel Dragsters (A/Fuelers) and Prostalgia Funny Cars are booked from both the IHRA national rankings along with cars in the general region in which the event is run. 

The remainder of the sportsman categories, similar to what is run in the NHRA race, is contested in the traditional single elimination style format.

The professional competition is based on a modified Chicago-style format. All competitors will make two runs per day. The first session the cars are paired by either points or by draw. In the second session the cars are paired by respective elapsed times from the first run. The two slowest cars race each other, on up to the two quickest cars of that first session. The two quickest cars then run for the “win”.  Then the next day the same process starts all over again. Therefore every day is a new show with new winners in each of the professional categories.