Volume X, Issue 5, Page 89

: I think we can all agree that drag racing is very costly to race a car, but there seems to be a thought that somehow the event purses should offset the cost of building and maintaining a racecar. I have heard that Wally Parks had a philosophy that with larger purses the racer will spend whatever kind of money he can get to chase that increased purse.

GIBBS: I think that is the reality of it. There is no way to control how much money someone is going to spend on anything…from a Top Fuel car to a Super Stocker and I think it is unfair to expect that because the cost of stuff goes up that all of a sudden purses are going to go up with it. The gate doesn’t necessarily go up just because some new item comes down the line that everybody has to have one and it cost another $500 or $1,000 to run your car,

I mean, the track operator needs to be fair to come up with decent purses, but the crowd doesn’t all of a sudden go up every time the cars go a couple of hundredths quicker or a couple of miles per hour faster. So in the end, it is true in almost every form of motorsports that you really need to supplement your costs through sponsorship. You either need to be able to do it or you need to have enough sponsorship to pay for it. Look at what is happening right now on the NHRA tour: very, very few guys are able to pay out of their pockets to run those cars – it is sponsor money. It’s the same in the Indy Racing League, Formula 1, same in NASCAR. I mean it’s just motorsports and the costs continue to go up… Speed costs. How fast do you want to go?

I don’t think we have ever learned how to control how much people want to spend on these cars. It’s frustrating, you make a little progress, but then all of a sudden you hear that we are only getting one run out of a crankshaft or only one run out of a set of pistons. I don’t know what to do about that, it’s the way you choose to race, but I think it is unrealistic to expect all of a sudden that prize money is going to go up to compensate for what you choose to spend. It is very frustrating. I mean I wish we could pay enough money that every run you made was “black ink,” but it is not that way and it never has been and probably never will be as long as people choose to spend that kind of money and when you have a category that is pretty much all-out racing, that’s the way it is going to be.

: How about the index classes that were supposed to be for the low-budget guys?

GIBBS: A lot of people don’t like index categories, they say, “That’s not racing when a guy goes too quick and he loses.” So far, it seems to be about the only way collectively we have come up with some means to control costs. You can build a car, run a certain performance level and probably not have to buy the new trick-of-the-week part every week – that’s why we have Super Gas and Super Comp, that’s why we have Nostalgia Eliminator or any of the index categories; it’s a means of controlling the amount of money you choose to spend. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t spend all the money you want to on any car or on your tow car or hauler. I’ve seen guys with multi-million dollar operations for their Stock (eliminator) car. You can’t control where somebody chooses to spend, any of them, but at least in the index classes you’ve got some good volume in those categories, because you can build a car, you can run whatever index it is and just go race and have fun. No, it is not for everyone, but it keeps more racers involved.

: Do you miss working on the NHRA national event circuit?

GIBBS: Yeah, I miss parts of it. I miss the people, I mean, there are a lot of friends you make over that many years and a lot of them are still out there. A lot of them are team owners now, not active racers, and still some of the racers and the crew guys. Yeah, I do miss some of it, but at the same time I’m 68 years old and it’s hard, you know there’s a lot of travel and a lot of pressure – so there’s a part of it that maybe I’m not up to as much as I once was. It was a great life, I enjoyed being a part of developing the NHRA into what it has become.  A lot of the systems, methods of operation that they use today have my fingerprints all over it and I’m proud of that. But it’s a tough job out there, twenty-five years for one guy – that’s probably enough.

: There have been a lot of issues lately on the NHRA POWERade tour about track preparation. Is there something that they are missing, are there real solutions to track prep now?

GIBBS: I really cannot comment on that, you know. I am not there, I don’t see what’s going on. I do know the people out there and they are doing the best that they can. I think you have cars these days that are so overpowered that conditions have to be almost perfect to get the perfect run. I think sometimes the expectations are too high; sometimes the racers are waiting for the track to come to their way of running as opposed to adjusting to the conditions of the track. Weather has so much to do with it; I mean you can’t control all the elements of track prep. A simple thing like cloud cover…on a nice, cool day you can take a marginal track and seemingly have the kind of racing everybody wants – you can take a perfect track on a hot and muggy, sunny day when conditions aren’t too good, but I do think the expectation sometimes is a little too high on those things and I do think some racers would have you preparing the track for every single run. Well, that’s just not realistic and sooner or later you need to adjust to the conditions that are there.

I think the safety crews and NHRA do an awfully good job of maintaining the tracks and the track owners, too. But it’s a changing game including the tires we are given to operate with and trying to adjust to a multitude of classes – the Pro Stock guys want it one way and the Funny Car guys want it another way and the 300-inch wheelbase cars want it another way and it’s a real juggling act to satisfy everybody and still run a race in a reasonable amount of time. But I think the guys are doing the best job that they can and sometimes weird things happen. There can be frosting from a bad winter and it creates a little bump that may not have shown up the year before and there’s going to be some surprises that will come along the way.

At the end of the day I hear there’s somebody griping about the track conditions instead of giving somebody credit for adapting to the track conditions and winning the race.  So, I did a lot with track prep over the years and I think we did a good job with the tools we had at the time, but the cars weren’t as powerful – it’s such a balancing act right now to make these things run 330-something miles an hour. Everything is so on the edge that it’s got to be frustrating for everybody… it’s not a perfect world.

 In Part II of the Steve Gibbs interview, Steve talks about Bruton Smith, the Heritage tour, the ADRL and other subjects.

Check out Part Two of the interview here.  

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