ate last year, with the abrupt departure of Bill Bader, Aaron Polburn took over as president of the International Hot Rod Association. Now with a full season under his belt, Polburn recently took time at Rockingham Dragway to assess the sanctioning body’s progress and describe where IHRA may be headed in the future.
(Editor’s note: Since this interview occurred, IHRA confirmed an increased purse structure for its Top Fuel class and announced nitro Funny Cars will return to its mix with a similar purse next season.)
Words and photos by Ian Tocher
How would you assess the past year for IHRA?
Polburn: It was a good year. We had a tough year national-event wise because of weather and gas prices, so we fought that and we learned a lot, but overall it was a good year financially because we were able to diversify. We have a lot of things other than national events, such as the Kumho Street Warrior series and the Night Under Fire series, so it was a great learning year. I need a little rest now, but I can’t wait for 2006.
You previously called yourself IHRA’s ‘VP of Stuff,’ so I know you were used to handling a lot of different people and problems, but did anything surprise you after taking over the presidency and all it entails?
Polburn: No, not really. There were times when you have to make the tough call and instead of it being somebody else’s call it was my call and I made it and I never looked back. So being in that position for the first time, it was like ‘Wow! It’s my deal here,’ but there weren’t really a lot of surprises.
I think that if I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t let the little stuff bother me so much, you know, I’d concentrate on the big stuff and know that sometimes some things are going to slip through the cracks. Just because it was my first year I tried not to let anything slip through the cracks and it probably took up too much of my time. So, time management is important.
We saw the nitro Funny Cars of Del Worsham and Mike Ashley do an exhibition here at Rockingham and after already being cut back to an eight-car field it’s no secret that your alcohol Funny Car guys are nervous about their future. What are you telling them?
Polburn: Actually I had dinner with Terry McMillen last night and he asked me, ‘Are we coming back?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘What are you, crazy? Of course you’re coming back.’
I was the purveyor of an eight-car field in our alcohol Funny Car class because I thought it was boring. There was nothing compelling about qualifying and I just saw problems. To a person the Funny Car group did everything I asked of them and it made the show that much better. And we’re about the show.
But nobody asked me [if the class was being discontinued]. One person came up and I said, ‘Why didn’t you call or e-mail me?’ and they said, ‘Well we’re sacred.’ I told him there was no reason to be scared and if I was going to do that I would give you plenty of warning.
So the alcohol Funny Cars will be coming back and if we end up with a nitro Funny Car deal of some sort or the other, that will not affect the alcohol cars. In fact, I think the alcohol cars could become a good feeder system for the nitro cars if it comes about.
So would you like to see nitro Funny Cars return to IHRA?
Polburn: Sure, but follow the money trail. It’s all about funding. If we can find the funding and make it work for IHRA track owners, of course, it would be a neat deal to have.