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DRO: With the certainty that NHRA is not going to declare Pro Modifieds a pro class, are we going to see a lot of people bolting back to IHRA with its 16-car fields and better payoffs?

HAGERTY: AMS Staff Leasing did a wonderful job for us. There have been only a couple of spoiled people who packed up their stuff and went home because they weren't being catered to the way they wanted. In any form of racing you're going to have that. A lot of these guys have showed their guts by sticking this out.

DRO: At what cost? What price have you paid to be a pioneer, of sorts, on the NHRA side? HAGERTY: The cost was substantial. My associate sponsors didn't come on board for the series. They were concerned about lack of TV time and the fact that fields were so small. But they did believe that if we walked a couple of races then we could run maybe a little bit later. They're still patient. There are other places we could have raced and made more money, no doubt about it. But we have to do this to support NHRA and our very existence. I know there's a few people who may not return next year, based on what is announced, because it doesn't fit the needs or the requirements of their sponsors. It could be a substantial burden placed on us for money for next year.

DRO: How much of the increased costs are travel-related versus capital investment in the cars?

HAGERTY: We haven't had to spend any additional money on the car because of the same safety considerations and rules are in place. But the traveling costs are quite expensive. It's a little added burden. It would help greatly if there are contingencies posted for the products we use. And obviously we'd like to see a little more money. That would be refreshing. That would ease some of the restraints on us.

DRO: What do you make of NHRA's insistence on the eight-car field?

HAGERTY: A 16-car field would pacify everybody and give us twice the exposure. That would mean twice as many recognizable vehicles in front of the grandstands on race day. People are a little confused. They see 20 of us run on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and only eight return on Sunday. If there was a 16-car field, it would pacify most of the teams, pending the professional (label).

DRO: It doesn't look like you're going to get that for 2003.

HAGERTY: They've said it's not in the cards. One of the excuses was the Sunday time frame, that they're trying to shrink the racing program to make it a package for the television market, that they didn't want to have three or four more rounds of another category. They even did mention an alternative of three qualifying sessions and first round of eliminations on Saturday night. The racers said that would be acceptable. That reduces the field to eight on Sunday and it fits better in their time slot. That's a concession by both parties. Guys still want to see a 16-car field, and that's one way of achieving it. We have not heard anything pro or con. It's just a hurry-up-and-wait scenario. It could be a bone they throw us and promise, "In 2004, this is what we're going to do." But can you hold them to their word? It doesn't look like it'd going to be (that way) in 2003. But if the final negotiations aren't set in concrete, maybe from the sponsors' side, pressure can be put on the NHRA: "This is what we want to see."

DRO: How likely is negotiation on that count?

HAGERTY: Maybe NHRA can give a little bit. Maybe the drivers can give a little bit. There's strength in numbers, but we also cannot bully people around. NHRA will operate with or without us. We're just a small part of this big program.

DRO: Your television set-up, though better than IHRA's still has flaws. The good part -- that's all over the scheduling map -- is exactly the problem.

HAGERTY: That's true. Sponsors and followers of our category say because of erratic scheduling, you can't plan for it [to watch it], and many times it's inconvenient for sponsors to tape or watch or tell their clients and employees to watch. It's hard to follow.

DRO: You don't want to be beggars in the boardroom. How do you strike that balance?

HAGERTY: We don't roll over and give up. Concessions need to be made on both ends . . . Because we're constantly making excuses for our situation [to sponsors].

DRO: If you could be the chief negotiator for the pro Modified class, how would you try to structure the deal?

HAGERTY: Personally, I would rather see a two-year package, a short-term package. We already have the investment. We're already here racing. We will upgrade our investment every year, but we're not talking about stepping in from having nothing and spending all your money on something that could last possible only two years. Some will come and some will go, and the rest of us will update (capital investment). If we were going to continue racing we'd do that no matter what. Anybody who would go out and spend a million dollars ands say, "I'm going to set myself up to race Pro Mod for three or four years over here" would be a little hasty and foolish. It's not penny-wise. But a two-year deal, saying we were going to leave negotiations open at the end of 2004, with first right of refusal, there's a lot of things that could be lined out. People then could make plans and set some strategy. A two-year deal is better than a one-year crack.

DRO: So you feel a bit stifled by a four-year plan if it doesn't allow for fresh bargaining along the way at appropriate intervals?

HAGERTY: A four-year deal is a little bit of a pipe dream. I don't like to be locked into it. A lot of things in our whole world could change in that time -- traveling issues, availability of crude oil, how our economy is. Let's face it: drag racing is a non-essential. We all realize that. We like to think we're important in the big scheme. We do make money. We spend money. And we keep, in our little part of the universe, dollars changing hands. But in the big picture, with starving children and plagues and hurricanes and tornadoes and forest fires and bad economies worldwide, this is a non-essential. Tomorrow all this could cease to exist and the world would go on. We're a sporting event and an entertainment package.


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